A former Trader Joe’s employee in Portland sued the company for race discrimination and retaliation in state court on Wednesday.
Sydney Satre worked as a crew member at a Trader Joe’s in Southeast Portland from April until Oct. 2020, when, the lawsuit alleges, she was fired for criticizing the company’s treatment of Black employees and Black Lives Matter.
Trader Joe’s did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
At the heart of the suit is the company’s alleged disparate treatment of employees who showed support for Black Lives Matter.
“The issue here is the way that Trader Joe’s was treating Black Lives Matter and the treatment of its Black employees as opposed to other messages and issues that they had allowed in the past,” said Maria Witt, the attorney representing Satre from Stutheit Kalin LLC.
According to the lawsuit, Trader Joe’s inconsistently enforced a policy forbidding crew members from adding logos, statements or messaging to their uniforms. Witt said staff at the store on SE Cesar Chavez Blvd were twice told they couldn’t wear pins or messages of support for Black Lives Matter.
But in practice, Witt said, “the common custom and practice at the Cesar Chavez store was to allow all kinds of messages to be expressed within the workplace.”
Crew members had routinely worn pins or face masks expressing LGBTQ pride, the lawsuit states, or support for sports teams or other messages.
“Black Lives Matter was treated differently,” Witt said.
Satre is white, according to her lawyer, but she claims Trader Joe’s retaliated against her for vocally supporting Black coworkers. Satre was fired one week after she and others met with a regional manager to voice their concerns, according to the lawsuit. Her termination letter, as excerpted in court filings, explicitly references Black Lives Matter:
“You state we don’t practice what we preach in our Values and are taking a neutral stance on Black Lives Matter. Trader Joe’s strongly disagrees with your statements. It is clear ... that you do not support Trader Joe’s nor like working for the company. For this reason, we will be processing your separation from Trader Joe’s effective immediately.”
Satre is seeking $350,000 in damages.
Trader Joe’s did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon. However, in December, the company outlined steps to bolster diversity and inclusion efforts in staffing, sourcing and store location.
When it comes to uniforms, though, some Oregon grocery stores have taken a different approach to employee support for Black Lives Matter.
“We respect individuality,” New Seasons’ policy reads, “and allow staff to wear Black Lives Matter and BLM messaging on apparel and buttons should they choose to do so.”