SETTLEMENT EYED IN KEY FOODS DISCRIMINATION SUIT

NEW YORK -- Key Foods Stores Co-Operative here last week appeared to be moving closer to settlement talks over a discrimination lawsuit after the case became a focus of local media attention.A source said the two sides could be preparing to settle after the plaintiffs in the 16-month-old suit produced an audiotape in which former Key Foods produce director Richard Grenard is alleged to be heard making

NEW YORK -- Key Foods Stores Co-Operative here last week appeared to be moving closer to settlement talks over a discrimination lawsuit after the case became a focus of local media attention.

A source said the two sides could be preparing to settle after the plaintiffs in the 16-month-old suit produced an audiotape in which former Key Foods produce director Richard Grenard is alleged to be heard making racially derogatory comments. The tape was provided to local media, and activist Al Sharpton and his National Action Network also took up the cause of the plaintiffs by staging a press conference last week.

Key Foods, a 115-store co-op of independently owned stores, fired Grenard earlier this month after hearing the recording. The company said Grenard previously had denied a verbal allegation of discrimination by one of the plaintiffs.

Marc Rapaport, an attorney for plaintiffs Nancy Mena, Shondelle Northe and Gina Healy, said Key Foods' action was "too little, too late."

"They waited a month and a half [after the tapes were presented]," he told SN in an interview last week. "They waited until it had been on TV."

The suit, filed in New York Superior Court, also named Key Foods executive Chet Koby and Key Foods itself and seeks $45 million plus punitive damages.

"With this type of attitude at corporate headquarters, you have to be concerned about it permeating through the whole organization," said Woody Henderson, president, National Action Network, New York Chapter.

Key Foods said in its prepared statement that the remarks heard on the tape "are reprehensible and would never be condoned," and that it is committed to a discrimination-free work environment.