A Black former Trader Joe’s employee is suing the Monrovia-based grocery store chain, alleging she was forced to quit in 2020 because management did not do enough when she complained of racial mistreatment by white customers while enforcing coronavirus pandemic restrictions.
Keya Persley’s Los Angeles Superior Court allegations include wrongful termination, discrimination, retaliation, harassment, assault, negligence, breach of contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress and various state Labor Code violations. Persley, now 50, seeks up to $1 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
A Trader Joe’s representative did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the suit brought Friday.
The suit does not identify the store in which Persley worked, but says she was hired in 2011 and was assigned in June 2020 to limit the number of customers in the location during the pandemic and to make sure there was proper social distancing.
“Plaintiff was doing this when she was subjected to an assault and a hate crime by white customers inside the store, who were angered by the plaintiff, an older African-American woman of color, instructing them that they had to wait and could not enter the store …” the suit states.
The white customers angrily attacked Persley, screaming that she had let in a Black customer before them, threatened her by referring to her age, gender, appearance, color and race and showed her a Swastika tattoo, all in the presence of other customers and employees as well as a store manager, the suit alleges.
“(Persley) was visibly emotionally and physically injured by this conduct,” the suit states.
The white store manager initially moved the unruly customers away from Persley, but let them remain in the store, and when they left they attacked the plaintiff a second time, according to the suit.
The store manager told Persley not to worry about what happened, the suit states.
Persley was entitled to be assisted, evaluated for accommodation and provided with psychological and medical care through workers compensation, the suit states.
Persley suffered a second hate crime at work in June 2020 that also was witnessed by a white store manager and that once more included threats and references to her race, age and gender, but she again was not provided accommodations and suffered a breakdown at work the next month, according to the suit.
Persley could have continued to work for Trader Joe’s had she been treated fairly and supported in the way she had been promised if she continued to work during the pandemic, but management refused to investigate or prevent the allegedly unsafe, hostile job environment, the suit states.