A former Trader Joe’s employee filed court papers Tuesday alleging she was wrongfully fired in 2020 ostensibly for not helping a customer find ice cream, but that the real reasons included her age and her desire to protect employees and customers during the coronavirus.

Rebecca Alvarez’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit alleges wrongful termination, retaliation, discrimination, harassment and failure to prevent harassment. She seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

A Trader Joe’s representative could not be reached for comment.

Alvarez worked for nine years at the Trader Joe’s store in Rancho Palos Verdes, stocking, bagging and working as a cashier, according to the her court papers, which do not state her age currently or at the time of her firing.

In April 2020, the company named a new manager dubbed a “captain” who began cutting the hours of Alvarez and other older employees and filling in those same hours with younger workers, Alvarez’s court papers state.

“The pragmatic effect of Trader Joe’s decision to cut the hours of older employees … was to prevent older employees from meeting the minimum of 30 hours a week needed to maintain health insurance,” Alvarez’s court papers state. “To put it simply, Trader Joe’s blatantly discriminated against older employees, including plaintiff.”

Trader Joe’s management sided with customers who refused to wear masks and practice social distancing and reprimanded those employees who urged guests to stay six feet apart and not bag their own items, Alvarez’s court papers state. The store manager “regularly stated her disbelief in the existence and severity of the COVID,” Alvarez’s court papers state.

Alvarez received a written warning last September that four customers had complained about her, but all the plaintiff had done was insist they practice social distancing and not put their items in bags themselves, the plaintiff’s court papers state.

That same month, Alvarez was treated rudely by human resources after suffering a work injury while stocking and subsequently taking leave that lasted into October, according to her court papers.

Trader Joe’s fired Alvarez Dec. 15, using the excuse that a customer protested that the plaintiff did not help her find ice cream, even though two of Alvarez’s co-workers who were present when the guest paid for her items said she did not complain, according to Alvarez’s court papers.

Trader Joe’s paid Alvarez’s final wages by giving her a debit card that required paying a fee every time she withdrew money, a violation of the state Labor Code, Alvarez’s court papers allege.

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