SACRAMENTO, CALIF. — Three Black former employees of the Kraft Heinz Co. have sued the company over alleged racist acts at a dairy plant in Tulare, Calif., and are seeking nominal, compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $30 million. A lawsuit on behalf of Alex Horn, Lance Aytman and Keith Hooker was filed Aug. 19 in the US District Court, Eastern District of California.
In the lawsuit, the men said from 2012-2018 they were subjected to racial taunts and threats, including “no (n-----s) as coordinators,” “all (n------s) must go” and “quit or die (n-----s).” The lawsuit claims swastikas were drawn on the lockers of multiple Black employees and that when confronted about the incidents, managers told the three men to keep their heads down or join the unemployment line.
Subjectivity, bias and racial prejudice dictated personnel decisions, including promotions, according to the lawsuit.
When asked for a company response, a Kraft Heinz spokesperson neither denied nor directly addressed the allegations in the lawsuit but said the company had a “zero-tolerance policy for discrimination or harassment of any kind.”
The lawsuit alleged Kraft Heinz violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. It also alleges Kraft Heinz violated the Ralph Civil Rights Act of 1976 and the Tom Bane Civil Rights Act.
All three men received death threats, according to the lawsuit.
Mr. Horn, who is Black and Latino, alleges he developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health conditions during his time at the Tulare plant operated by Kraft Heinz. The conditions led him to take an unpaid medical leave of absence, according to the lawsuit. Kraft Heinz fired him in September 2019.
Mr. Aytman also took an unpaid medical leave of absence in 2016 after allegedly developing anxiety and depression. He was fired in July 2019. Mr. Hooker left Kraft Heinz in 2018.
In its response, Kraft Heinz did not directly address the accusations but emphasized that the alleged incidents all occurred before 2019.
“For context, the claims filed within the complaint date back to incidents that are several years old, with the last being in 2018, so to frame this as a current, ongoing or rampant issue is inaccurate,” the spokesperson said. “Since then, there have been no other allegations of racial discrimination or harassment at the Tulare plant.
“Kraft Heinz prides itself on creating diverse and inclusive workplaces, and we have a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination or harassment of any kind. Whenever a serious allegation such as this is made, we take immediate and swift action, including conducting a thorough investigation and implementing corrective actions if behaviors contradictory to our values are found.
“The allegations at the Tulare plant are several years old, and as soon as we were made aware, we undertook an extensive investigation, including cooperating with law enforcement, to ensure that any behavior that violated our policies, if uncovered, was put to an end.”