Cake example. Photo via Pixabay.

A judge Monday scheduled a hearing for later this month on whether a former Superior Grocers store assistant manager will have to arbitrate his claim that he was wrongfully fired in 2021 for “caking” two female employees during a birthday festivity, despite a longtime tradition of such celebrations at the store that continued after he left.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard L. Fruin said he will hear testimony from witnesses during the March 25 proceeding in the lawsuit brought by plaintiff Ronald Parada. Rulings on motions to compel arbitration are usually made after a review of court papers prior to arguments by the attorneys.

Parada’s suit alleges wrongful discharge, retaliation, failure to prevent retaliation and a violation of the California Family Rights Act protecting family leave. He seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

According to the Superior Grocers’ attorneys’ court papers asking that the case be stayed and that Parada be forced to arbitrate his claims, the plaintiff was provided with a copy of the company’s arbitration agreement when he was given his paycheck in December 2019. The arbitration agreement specifically provided that the parties agreed that any disputes arising out of his employment would be resolved in binding arbitration, according to the Superior Grocers’ attorneys’ court papers.

In a sworn declaration, Parada denied he was bound by an arbitration agreement.

“The signature next to my name on the payroll check pick-up register is not my signature or handwriting,” Parada says.

Parada was hired in 2012 as an assistant store director and later advanced to the positions of co-director and in November 2016 to store director, according to the suit filed Dec. 1.

“Throughout plaintiff’s employment with defendants, on birthdays and other celebrations, the employees celebrated by having cake and the person being celebrated would be `caked,’ i.e. lightly hit in the face with some cake or whipped cream,” according to the suit.

While working for the Santa Fe Springs-based company, Parada complained about alleged excessive work hours for managers and reported various state Labor Code violations to management involving, among other things, paid time off and the alleged keeping of incorrect time records, the suit states.

Parada complained to supervisors in early 2020 that the company’s time-keeping software was inaccurate and that employees were not receiving sick pay, according to the suit.

Parada went on medical leave in May 2020 after being injured when the car he was driving was hit from behind by a drunken driver, the suit states. Three months later, he requested medical and bereavement leave after his father died, according to the suit.

In mid-February of 2021, Parada took medical leave again after his mother became ill, the suit states. Less than two weeks later, Parada was fired and was told the reason was his having “caked” the two female workers, the suit states.

After Parada’s firing, the “caking” tradition continued at the store, the suit states. He believes the store’s explanation for his termination was a pretext for his protests about his work hours, reporting management’s alleged Labor Code violations and for requesting family leave, the suit states.

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