Federal Agency Obtains Preliminary Injunction to Protect Latina Clerk's Job
SAN JOSE, Calif. - Peters' Bakery, a family-owned business in East San Jose, may not terminate a sales clerk whose allegations of ethnic and racial harassment and retaliation are the basis for a federal lawsuit by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), according to a preliminary injunction recently issued by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Jose Division. U.S. District Court Judge Beth Labson Freeman found that Peters' Bakery "gave no legitimate business reason for terminating Ms. Ramirez," and that "the EEOC is likely to succeed on its Title VII claims."
According to EEOC's complaint (13-CV-04507-BLF) filed Sept. 30, 2013, owner Charles "Chuck" Peters harassed sales clerk Marcela Ramirez with repeated derogatory jokes and comments, such as "Mexicans would rather lie than tell the truth," and "I never trusted your kind of people," and ultimately discharged her because of her national origin. The lawsuit further alleged that after Ramirez filed charges with the EEOC, her employer retaliated by filing a defamation lawsuit against her (dismissed May 2012), by delaying the reinstatement Ramirez won through a union arbitration in 2012, and by circulating her charge to her co-workers and writing her up.
On June 30, 2015, Peters' Bakery again tried to discharge Ramirez effective July 3, but the EEOC obtained a temporary order on July 2 to block the termination pending a hearing on the matter. On July 17, the Court enjoined Ramirez's termination until the case is determined on the merits, or the court orders otherwise. In a written order issued July 22, the court observed that "permitting Ms. Ramirez to be terminated under such circumstances may well have a chilling effect on other employees who might wish to file charges with the EEOC, and thus could interfere with the EEOC's mission."
"Preventing retaliation is key to EEOC's effort to end discrimination and harassment, and we need employees to feel that they can come to the EEOC to report discrimination without fear of reprisal," said EEOC General Counsel David Lopez, noting that "fighting policies and practices that interfere with individuals exercising their rights, or that impede the EEOC's investigative or enforcement efforts, is a national priority identified by this agency's Strategic Enforcement Plan."
Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment harassment due to race or national origin, and protects workers who report such discrimination from retaliation. EEOC filed the original suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. In that suit, the agency seeks monetary damages, training on anti-discrimination laws and other injunctive relief.
Ramirez said, "I have worked at this bakery for 14 years. I love my co-workers and customers and I depend on this job to support myself and my family. It was terrible to come into work and face a termination notice in three days. I'm so relieved and happy EEOC spoke out for my rights and that the court protected my job."
EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Cindy O'Hara noted, "Ms. Ramirez and her union representative were told that the owner was 'done' with her, and she had 'cost the bakery a lot of lawyers.' It was great that the EEOC could use its resources to prevent a retaliatory discharge."
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.