Discrimination against a Senior Black Woman: a California Labor Law Violation

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Pasadena, CA "It's not just about me," says Florene, 75. "There are lots of people who are discriminated against by Sodexo. My reason to file a complaint is to add my voice, because if people don't, this kind of behavior will continue. How can companies in the 21st century act this way?" Florene is not alone in claiming that Sodexo violated California labor laws.

In 2005 Sodexo settled to the tune of $80 million a discrimination lawsuit filed by thousands of black employees who charged that they were barred from promotions and segregated within the company. The giant provider of food and facilities management services also agreed to follow diversity and inclusion guidelines that would increase opportunities for African Americans to advance within the company. In fact, the Sodexo website states, "Sodexo's leadership in diversity and inclusion stems from our recognition that being a dynamic company requires people with rich backgrounds and diverse perspectives." A picture of two happy black people supplements the text.

"I know I was doing a good job and I was working very hard. The way I was treated indicates discrimination… and discrimination must not be tolerated anywhere"
Five years later, on April 27, 2010, community leaders and Sodexo workers testified at a press conference and released a new report scrutinizing Sodexo's progress.

None of this is news to Florene.

Discriminatory actions started even before Florene's first day on the job. "My friend, who is the general manager and got me the job, said I would start at $12 per hour. But when I met my supervisor, he said the job only paid $10.50 per hour.

"When I got this job I was so excited, like someone had thrown me a lifeline," says Florene, who had been out of work for some time. "My supervisor and a few co-workers made unreasonable demands on me, but I figured if they saw my efforts and hard work, they would get through this." Unfortunately, their racist behavior continued, with the obvious goal of forcing Florene to resign.

"I wouldn't resign. I knew I was doing a good job and I'm a hard worker, regardless of my age. My age doesn't bother me but others think if you are over 60 you can't walk and chew gum at the same time. I look and feel 55 but I don't have control over the calendar. I can easily work 40-hour weeks; I wasn't going to mess up this job.

"However, the complaints against me continued at weekly meetings. They wanted me to sign reports??"complaints about me??"but I wouldn't. The badgering continued. One person said, 'Why don't you just resign and maintain your dignity?'

"'Whatever it is you want, I will try to do that but I will not resign,' I told my supervisor. I complained to HR but they ignored me. I finally left, and for three days I was so overwhelmed that I couldn't leave my house.

"My friends said I should file a complaint, because I was also replaced by a 20-year-old. I believe I was discriminated because of my age and race. I know I was doing a good job and I was working very hard. The way I was treated indicates discrimination, and I know that is a violation of the California labor law. And discrimination must not be tolerated anywhere. I owe it to myself and others to file a claim against Sodexo. Certainly I need money, but this isn't just about the money. They are horrible people, and I am devastated by this.

"I get social security but we all know that isn't enough. I need to work because the cost of living is just too high. My job prospects aren't good and I'm struggling emotionally. And I'm not alone: lots of people are discriminated against within this company."

"We had a director at our unit actually refer to the employees as monkeys," writes George Spivey, a Sodexo worker at Georgia Tech. "It bothers me to even talk about it. I went to Human Resources to report a complaint. I don't know if they ever did an investigation."

"I worked with a chef who would pull down his pants, use the 'n' word, and always had this thing about 'you people' referring to us being different from him," said Rubynell Barbee, a Sodexo worker at Morehouse College. "I brought it up with Human Resources but they said since he was part black it was ok. I don't think that it's ok."

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