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June 26th, 2013

EEOC sues food distributor for sex discrimination



BALTIMORE, MD – A national marketer and distributor of national and proprietary-branded food and food-related products engaged in a pattern or practice of failing to hire female applicants for operative positions at distribution centers nationwide, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it announced recently.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, since at least Jan. 1, 2004, Performance Food Group, Inc., and its predecessor, subsidiary and affiliate companies (PFG), have engaged in an ongoing pattern of refusing to hire women for operative positions at their broadline distribution facilities. These operative positions include: selector; receiving clerk; yard jockey; driver; driver trainee; driver check-in; forklift operator; mechanic; dispatcher; fueler; meat cutter; meat packer; router; sanitation specialist; transportation supervisors; and warehouse supervisors.

PFG senior vice presidents and other high-ranking management officials repeatedly made comments that were tantamount to directing managers to favor males and to discriminate against females in hiring, the EEOC charged. Company vice presidents openly proclaimed a bias against employing women, including stating that women cannot do warehouse work and questioning, "Why would we ever waste our time bringing in females?" Vice presidents also said that women would slow down the operation and that it would be a good idea to get the females "out of here." Company officials also pressured one facility to discharge a female employee and asked why they continued to "hire these girls," the EEOC said in the lawsuit.

The EEOC further alleged that PFG refused to promote Julie Lawrence to a position for which she was qualified, based on gender. Lawrence’s immediate supervisor urged her to apply for a promotion to a nighttime warehouse training supervisor position and gave her resume to a corporate vice president of operations for his consideration. Despite this recommendation, and the company’s own policy which says the company’s philosophy was to promote from within when possible, the vice president refused to look at Lawrence’s resume, stating, "I am not interested in seeing anything from a woman," the EEOC charged.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Performance Food Group, Inc., et al., case number 1:13-cv-01712-WDQ) in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Baltimore Division after first attempting to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. In its lawsuit, the EEOC seeks injunctive relief prohibiting PFG from refusing to hire or promote women based on sex; equitable relief that provides equal employment opportunities for females; lost wages, compensatory and punitive damages; and other affirmative relief for Lawrence and other similarly situated women who were harmed by PFG’s discriminatory conduct.

"The EEOC has devoted significant resources to ensuring compliance with Title VII through outreach and technical assistance," said EEOC General Counsel David Lopez. "This case demonstrates once again, however, that the EEOC is prepared to use litigation where necessary when employers engage in broad-based patterns of sex discrimination in hiring and promotions."

EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence said, "This type of blatant discrimination is a priority for the EEOC. No employer has the right to reject female applicants based on outdated stereotypes or biases that women cannot perform jobs in traditionally male-dominated workplaces."

District Director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr. of the EEOC’s Philadelphia District Office added, "The EEOC is committed to eradicating discriminatory barriers in employment that wrongfully prevent women from getting jobs or promotions for which they are qualified."

Women who believe they may have been denied a position at PFG because of their sex and individuals who may have any information that would be helpful to the EEOC’s suit against PFG should contact the EEOC by e-mail at PFGLITIGATION@eeoc.gov.


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