A Black former Best Buy warehouse worker, who alleges he was forced to work in an environment that favored Latinos, was subjected to racially disparaging names and was wrongfully fired after some televisions were broken during a loading accident, will have to take his case to arbitration, a judge ruled.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Malcolm Mackey agreed with lawyers for Best Buy during a Nov. 23 hearing that plaintiff Maurice Merritt pledged multiple times when applying for jobs at the company that he would arbitrate disputes rather than sue. The judge put the case on hold pending the outcome of the arbitration.
Merritt denied signing any arbitration agreements.
“I can say with100% certainty that I never read any agreement surrounding an arbitration agreement as I would have remembered something as significant as that,” Merritt said in a sworn declaration.
Merritt filed his suit July 22, alleging breach of an express oral contract not to terminate employment without good cause; breach of an implied-in-fact contract not to terminate employment without good cause; negligent hiring, supervision and retention; wrongful termination; intentional infliction of emotional distress; and a violation of the state Labor Code.
Merritt was hired by Best Buy in October 2007 and worked in loss prevention and asset protection until June 2017, when he became a general warehouse worker in Compton, the suit states.
Merritt overheard some Latino employees call Black workers the “N-word,” “black monkeys,” “lazy” and “stupid” in Spanish, according to his court papers, which state that h also noticed that Latino colleagues “made it a point not to interact with the African-American employees.” When a Latino employee interacted with a Black employee, the Latino employee was shunned by other Latinos for doing so, according to his suit.
When Merritt complained to one of his managers about the work environment, she “laughed it off and said it wasn’t a big deal,” the suit states.
Despite his complaint, no changes were made and the work environment became worse as Latino employees forced him to unload trucks by himself, according to the suit.
In 2009, Merritt noticed that the general manager favored Latino employees by promoting them faster than other workers like him, who had more seniority and better qualifications, the suit alleges.
In 2009 and 2010, Merritt says he complained at least seven times to his bosses that Latino employees received training and promotional opportunities that were denied to the plaintiff. The supervisors “apathetically” replied they would train Merritt, but nothing happened and the plaintiff “felt ignored and shunned,” according to his suit.
From 2007-17, supervisors pressured Merritt to falsify documents to meet inspections by mystery shoppers, the suit alleges. Merritt says he objected, but nothing was done.
According to his lawsuit, Merritt was loading a bin with televisions sorted by another employee in December 2017 when they fell and broke because they were not properly wrapped. He was fired the next month and alleges the incident involving the TVs was used as a justification, even though Latinos involved in worse accidents were not even reprimanded.
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