A former Trader Joe’s employee who sued the company alleging she was wrongfully fired in 2020 because of her age and her desire to protect employees and customers from the coronavirus has reached a tentative settlement with the Monrovia-based grocery store chain.
Lawyers for plaintiff Rebecca Alvarez filed court papers on June 14 notifying Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Timothy Patrick Dillon of the “conditional” accord, but no terms were divulged. Alvarez’s lawyers further stated that they expect to file a request for dismissal by Aug. 15.
The suit filed in June 2021 alleged wrongful termination, retaliation, discrimination, harassment and failure to prevent harassment. She sought unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
In their court papers, Trader Joe’s attorneys stated that the company’s coronavirus safety protocol implemented in March 2020 was sufficient, and said five customers complained about Alvarez’s service within six months and that the company “had no choice but to terminate her employment.”
Alvarez transferred to the Trader Joe’s store in Rancho Palos Verdes in February 2020 “because she wanted a fresh start, a new change, a new environment,” according to the defense attorneys’ court papers.
Alvarez stocked, bagged and worked as a cashier, according to her suit, which did not state her age either when she was fired or at the time she sued.
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 time periods with younger workers, the suit stated.
“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 suit stated. “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 suit stated. The store manager “regularly stated her disbelief in the existence and severity of the COVID,” Alvarez’s suit stated.
Alvarez received a written warning in September 2020 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 suit stated.
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 2020, according to her suit.
Trader Joe’s fired Alvarez in December 2020, alleging that a customer complained the plaintiff did not help her find ice cream, according to Alvarez’s suit.
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 suit alleged.