Court Enjoins Termination of Employee While It Decides Merits of the Case

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Peters' Bakery, a family-owned business in East San Jose, may not terminate a sales clerk whose allegations of ethnic and racial harassment and retaliation are the basis for a federal lawsuit by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), according to a preliminary injunction recently issued by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Jose Division. U.S. District Court Judge Beth Labson Freeman found that Peters' Bakery "gave no legitimate business reason for terminating Ms. Ramirez," and that "the EEOC is likely to succeed on its Title VII claims."

According to EEOC's complaint (13-CV-04507-BLF) filed Sept. 30, 2013, owner Charles "Chuck" Peters harassed sales clerk Marcela Ramirez with repeated derogatory jokes and comments, such as "Mexicans would rather lie than tell the truth," and "I never trusted your kind of people," and ultimately discharged her because of her national origin. The lawsuit further alleged that after Ramirez filed charges with the EEOC, her employer retaliated by filing a defamation lawsuit against her (dismissed May 2012), by delaying the reinstatement Ramirez won through a union arbitration in 2012, and by circulating her charge to her co-workers and writing her up.

On June 30, 2015, Peters' Bakery again tried to discharge Ramirez effective July 3, but the EEOC obtained a temporary order on July 2 to block the termination pending a hearing on the matter. On July 17, the Court enjoined Ramirez's termination until the case is determined on the merits, or the court orders otherwise. In a written order issued July 22, the court observed that "permitting Ms. Ramirez to be terminated under such circumstances may well have a chilling effect on other employees who might wish to file charges with the EEOC, and thus could interfere with the EEOC's mission."

Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment harassment due to race or national origin, and protects workers who report such discrimination from retaliation. EEOC filed the original suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. In that suit, the agency seeks monetary damages, training on anti-discrimination laws and other injunctive relief.

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