Was Age Bias Behind Trader Joe’s “Reorganization”?

A class-action lawsuit alleges that Trader Joe’s implemented a company-wide “reorganization” plan last year to drive out older workers.

According to the complaint,  a company-wide reorganization by Trader Joe’s, the grocery store chain for affluent yuppies, resulted in the systematic demotion of employees over the age of 45 in violation of the U.S. Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

The suit was brought by Keith Garlough, 49, an eight-year veteran employee of a California Trade Joe’s store, who was demoted from the position of “merchant,” which is one rung below assistant store manager,  to an entry-level crew position.  He states he suffered an $8.50 per hour loss in pay, a reduction in hours and was no longer eligible for bonuses and overtime pay. He also incurred greater health insurance costs and received fewer health benefits, less vacation and leave pay, and diminished retirement contributions.

I note in my new book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, that it is a common practice  for employers to use the device of a “restructuring” or “business reorganization” to eliminate or demote older workers. There hasn’t been much litigation over the practice because age discrimination is treated like a second-class offense in U.S. federal courts.  If these cases aren’t immediately dismissed, federal judges permit employers to avoid accountability by dragging out these cases for years. In one major case at least two older workers died  while their age discrimination case was permitted to languish for ten years until it was dismissed!

In addition to the ADEA, the complaint alleges Trader Joe’s  company-wide policy violated the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and California’s competition law.

The case is Garlough v. Trader Jos’s Co., # 3:15-cv-01278 and was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Trader Joe’s has more than 200 stores in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington.