Class Certified In Gristede’s Sex Bias Case

Employment Law 360 - Jesse Greenspan
March 9, 2010

A federal judge has certified a class of female Gristede’s employees who accuse the supermarket chain of channeling them into lower-paying, part-time jobs and of failing to promote them to management positions.

Judge Laura Taylor Swain of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled Monday that class treatment was appropriate with respect to the plaintiffs’ claims for injunctive and declaratory relief based on hiring, promotion and compensation practices at Gristede’s Operating Corp.

She also said plaintiffs’ counsel was experienced and well-qualified, and she rejected the defendants’ attempt to strike a pair of expert reports.

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The class is open to at least 668 women who worked for Gristede’s at any time between November 2004 and the date of final judgment.

In her opinion, Judge Swain said the supermarket chain’s hiring and promotion practices were not undertaken pursuant to a formal policy, and that up until September 2007 every decision regarding whether to hire an applicant for an entry-level position was made by one manager, Michael McCormick.

McCormick received no training regarding employment and anti-discrimination laws, and essentially no training on how to determine whether an applicant is qualified for a particular entry-level position, ” Swain said.

Since September 2007, hiring and initial placement decisions have been made by four male store managers, who were given no direction as to how to make those decisions other than to verify that applicants have valid identifying documents, according to Swain.

Plaintiffs have offered numerous accounts of female applicants being steered or directed to cashier positions, ” she said. Plaintiffs have also submitted an expert report indicating a significant gender discrepancy in the initial placement of newly hired employees.

Similarly, plaintiffs have submitted testimony from various Gristede’s managers demonstrating that manager positions are usually filled by promoting from within the company, ” she added. Gristede’s has no policy or criteria, and store managers are not otherwise given any guidance, regarding the qualifications required for any of the various manager positions. ”

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The suit, first filed in October 2006, alleged that of the 183 management-level employees at Gristede’s in 2006, only 10 were women.

Meanwhile, more than 95 percent of cashiers at the company were female, and more than 76 percent of clerks at the company were male. The vast majority of managers were promoted from the clerk position, according to the suit.

The suit further stated that women earned from 12 percent to 25 percent less than men between 2000 and 2007.

Named as defendants are Gristede’s and various affiliates, along with CEO John Catsimatidis.

Gristede’s operates more than 40 stores in and around New York City.

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The plaintiffs, including lead plaintiffs Susan Duling, Margaret Anderson and Lakeya Sewer, are represented by  Outten & Golden LLP.

The case is Duling et al. v. Gristede’s Operating Corp. et al., case number 06-10197, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.