A judge denied a motion by Superior Grocers to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a former produce clerk who alleges she was forced to quit in 2018 after she was subjected to discrimination and retaliation when she became pregnant, including being told that breastfeeding was not allowed at work.
However, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Monica L. Bachner did pare some of Maricela Sandoval Orozco’s claims and also struck her claim for punitive damages. The judge heard arguments Thursday and took the case under submission before ruling later in the day.
Among the claims Orozco can take to trial are those for discrimination, retaliation and negligent hiring, supervision and retention. The dismissed claims include those for wrongful termination, intentional infliction of emotional distress and hostile work environment harassment.
Orozco was hired in January 2017 as a produce clerk at age 42 at the Florence-area store on Compton Avenue, where the store produce manager, Andres Castelan, told her at the time she would be allowed to take about two days off a month to care for her cancer-stricken son, the suit states.
Orozco accepted the position, then three months later found out she had been pregnant for a month, according to the complaint.
Orozco told Castelan that she had a risky pregnancy given her age and she asked to be exempt from lifting heavy items so as to avoid a miscarriage, the suit states. From then on, Castelan began to speak to Orozco in a condescending and dismissive manner and became more hostile toward her after each time she asked for help in lifting items, according to the suit.
“Orozco felt depressed and targeted as Castelan refused to engage with her about other options in accommodating her pregnancy,” the suit states.
Orozco felt compelled to put her pregnancy at risk with some assigned tasks, the suit states. In addition, Castelan demanded she continue working after eight hours were up until she finished all of her assigned jobs, the suit alleges.
Despite his promise when he hired Orozco, Castelan twice denied her request to take time off to take her son to a doctor’s appointment for cancer treatment, the suit alleges.
In October 2017, Castelan asked Orozco to help another employee set up a heavy Halloween promotional display, despite knowing she was seven months pregnant, the suit states. Orozco fainted because of the lifting and was taken to a hospital by ambulance, where a doctor placed her on a pregnancy disability leave, according to the suit.
Orozco returned in May 2018 and management immediately cut her hours and forced her to work nights, and her job included organizing the produce section and lifting 50-pound boxes, the suit states.
Orozco asked for accommodations to breastfeed from a store supervisor, who denied the request and said, ” We don’t do that here” and “If you don’t like it, you are free to quit and go home,” the suit states.
Orozco then asked Castelan to be allowed to breastfeed, but he replied that she could not do so at work because it made her a “liability,” the suit states. He continued to require her to lift heavy boxes, the suit states.
In June 2018, wanting to avoid more harassment, retaliation, discrimination and an environment where she was consistently pressured to quit, Orozco told Castelan she was resigning, according to the complaint.
In their court papers, attorneys for Superior Grocers stated that management gave Orozco seven months off for maternity and baby-bonding leave. She returned to work in May 2018 without any work restrictions, then a month later abandoned her job by failing to call or show up to work for two consecutive shifts, according to the Superior Grocers’ attorneys’ court papers.
“(Orozco) admits no one at Superior ever made an inappropriate comment to her concerning her pregnancy, disability, medical condition or her son’s cancer treatment, and no one denied her time off to attend her son’s cancer-related appointments,” the Superior Grocers attorneys stated in their court papers.