H-E-B, STATER ALLEGED TO DISCRIMINATE

Two supermarket chains -- H.E. Butt Grocery Co., San Antonio, and Stater Bros. Markets, Colton, Calif. -- have been hit with racial discrimination complaints filed by African-American employees, with the H-E-B complaint also citing discrimination against African-American consumers.While the Stater Bros. case, filed by 12 part-time warehouse employees, involves charges of racial harassment at the company's

Two supermarket chains -- H.E. Butt Grocery Co., San Antonio, and Stater Bros. Markets, Colton, Calif. -- have been hit with racial discrimination complaints filed by African-American employees, with the H-E-B complaint also citing discrimination against African-American consumers.

While the Stater Bros. case, filed by 12 part-time warehouse employees, involves charges of racial harassment at the company's distribution center, the complaint against H-E-B filed by five current and four former employees, is concerned primarily with alleged discrimination in hiring and promotions.

It also claims that H-E-B "stereotypically categorizes African-American customers as potential troublemakers who are often followed around the store and watched by H-E-B employees."

H-E-B officials could not be reached for comment last week. The complaint against H-E-B, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, alleges that the 242-store company has engaged in unlawful employment practices since 1979.

The complaint says H-E-B has consistently denied African-American employees the opportunity for promotion, despite their qualifications; denied those employees comparable salaries, raises and other compensation given to Caucasian and Hispanic employees; concealed information regarding employment advancement opportunities; failed to allow African-American employees to acquire the experience and opportunities necessary to qualify for promotions; and retaliated against employees who complained through intimidation, diminishment of work responsibilities and termination.

It also claims the company discriminates against African-American employees in the number of hours worked , the types of duties they are asked to perform and their access to employment benefits.

The complaint says H-E-B "has promotion practices based on subjective rather than objective job-related criteria . . . [and] inadequate written policies, procedures and guidelines . . . with respect to the promotion of employees."

The plaintiffs said they are seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, plus lost fringe benefits and back pay.

Jack H. Brown, chairman, president and chief executive officer of the 110-unit Stater Bros. chain, declined to comment on the allegations in the complaint against his company. However he told SN, "I believe the charges are unfounded and simply a matter of greed, and we are happy to be able to resolve this matter in court."

Brown said that neither employee named in the complaint -- Dave Wooters, vice president of distribution, and Kathleen A. Finazzo, vice president of personnel -- would comment on the allegations.

Earlier this year Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla., was charged with racial discrimination against African-American employees and applicants in a complaint that seeks class action status.

In southern California the complaint against Stater and the two executives, which was filed in San Bernardino Superior Court, claims that Stater and the two defendants "have created and allowed to exist a racially hostile environment by participating and allowing their employees to participate in a relentless campaign of harassment and excessive criticism directed towards plaintiffs because of their race and color."

The complaint says the plaintiffs have been called racially derogatory names; subjected to racially demeaning comments; passed over for promotions in favor of less senior, less qualified non-African-American employees; denied various incentive benefits; forced to work under dangerous conditions; and subjected to more severe criticism and discipline than other, non-African-American employees.

The document says prior verbal and written complaints by the plaintiffs concerning these situations were not resolved to their satisfaction. It also points out that Stater Bros. agreed to pay $780,000 to an employee to settle a 1992 lawsuit involving racial harassment and agreed in 1994 to post a policy forbidding racial harassment as part of a settlement agreement with one of the current plaintiffs.

The complaint seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. Brown told SN the complaint was filed after the company turned down a request by the 12 employees for payment of $700,000 each as compensation for the alleged discrimination.

Warehouse employees at Stater not involved in filing the complaint held a rally outside the distribution center July 4 to indicate their support for the company and to refute allegations of racial discrimination.

Brown told SN he was unable to indicate how many of Stater's 1,200 warehouse employees are African-American. However, he noted that 45% of the company's total employee base are minorities.