Business & Real Estate

Raley's will pay clerk who said late shift before Thanksgiving was religious discrimination

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a religious discrimination complaint against the Raley’s supermarket chain, claiming a clerk was fired because she could not work a shift that conflicted with a religious meeting.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a religious discrimination complaint against the Raley’s supermarket chain, claiming a clerk was fired because she could not work a shift that conflicted with a religious meeting. Ed Andersen

Hit with a federal suit claiming Raley’s engaged in religious discrimination when it fired a clerk four years ago, the supermarket chain has agreed to pay the worker $140,000, revise its policies and provide new training to its supervisors.

The agreement comes in the form of a consent decree filed Thursday in federal court in Sacramento between the West Sacramento-based chain and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which sued Raley’s last September.

Raley’s denied the allegations in the suit, but agreed to settle to avoid “the expense, delay and burden of further litigation,” court documents say.

The case stems from the firing of Jennifer Webb, a courtesy clerk at a Raley’s store in Chico who had been scheduled to work a Wednesday night shift the evening before Thanksgiving 2014.

Webb is a Jehovah’s Witness and had told Raley’s supervisors before her hiring in May 2014 that she could not work shifts after 5 p.m. on Wednesdays and before 4 p.m. on Sundays because she had to attend religious meetings at those times, court documents say.

Raley’s accommodated her scheduling needs until the day before Thanksgiving, when she was scheduled to work from 2 p.m. until 11 p.m.

Webb told Raley’s supervisors before that day that she could not work as scheduled because of her beliefs, but was told that because of the busy Thanksgiving holiday “it didn’t matter” and that she needed to report as scheduled, according to the EEOC complaint.

Webb showed up at 2 p.m., but when she told a supervisor she could not stay past 5 p.m., she was fired, the complaint says.

Raley’s disputed Webb’s claims, saying after the suit was filed that she abruptly left work and failed to respond to subsequent efforts by Raley’s to contact her or schedule new work shifts.

In a statement issued Thursday, Raley's spokeswoman Chelsea Minor said the company "has always been committed to providing its employees with a first-class work environment and respecting each of their religious practices; Ms. Webb was no exception."

"During the short period of time Ms. Webb worked for Raley’s, the company regularly accommodated her need for time off to accommodate her religious beliefs and child care needs. Indeed, in the EEOC’s allegations against Raley’s, they and Ms. Webb readily admitted that Raley’s regularly accommodated her needs.

"The EEOC’s and Ms. Webb’s entire claim was based on Ms. Webb’s allegation that Raley’s provided her with a shift on Wednesday, November 26, 2014, that conflicted with her religious observance. On that day, Ms. Webb abruptly left work. When store management attempted to call her to discuss her departure from work, she refused to respond.

"Ultimately, the company separated her employment because Ms. Webb did not report to work for subsequent shifts and did not reply to the company’s attempts to contact her."

The consent agreement calls for Raley's to pay Webb $25,000 in back pay and $115,000 in compensatory damages.

The supermarket chain also agreed to purge its records of any disciplinary action taken against her, change them to reflect she voluntarily resigned and provide her a “neutral letter of reference,” according to the consent decree signed by U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez.

Raley’s also agreed to review and revise written policies on providing religious accommodations and to prohibit retaliation against employees seeking such accommodations.

"The revised policy also will make clear to supervisors that upon receiving a request for an accommodation of a sincerely held religious belief under the policy, (Raley's) shall consider the request and engage in an interactive process," the consent decree says, adding that the policy will "clarify that an employer has an obligation to provide reasonable accommodations."

The consent decree will be in effect for three years and includes a requirement that a notice about the agreement be posted in the Chico store on an employee bulletin board or other visible locations.

Raley's is a privately held company with 123 stores in Northern California and Nevada and employs about 12,000 people.

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