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.

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

  1. Age discrimination is still alive and well at Trader Joe’s only to be out paced by reversed sexual discrimination.
    I have worked for Trader Joe’s for 26 years and should be ashamed of themselves. I hope the judge trows the book at them.

    1. Hi, I worked for TJ’s for 3 years. I was severely injured. I was cut out of treatment 7 weeks after I fell unconscious to the pavement instigated by eroded sidewalk and shatering the ligaments of my foot… I would like to find other TRADER JOE’S CREW MEMBERS who have suffered Injury on the Job and are getting the Run Around from the Gallagher Bassett “FOR PROFIT’ Insurance Services. Not getting necessary treatment in a timely fashion, approvals for Dr.s in a timely fashion, delays on surgeries, etc.
      The Insurance industry doesn’t make money Paying Claims”… Please FB at ElleB Burnett.

  2. Perceived discrimination also at the candidate application level:
    If you are thinking about working at Trader Joe, good luck. My 40 year old husband with College Associate degree and three completed professional apprentice certificates, 4 years pharmaceutical school (no degree), bilingual (not Spanish), clean appearance with no tattoos or piercings, and get this, 10 years experience in food and beverage industry as waiter, grocery store worker and caterer, with clean background just received a letter from a manager who interviewed him, declining employment.
    I work in HR and have seen Trader Joe’s hire the very same people whom I have fired in my company for drugs, fraud, and various other gross misconduct reasons. These are usually white, U.S. born, and under 40. Also observed very young men & women with likely no professional experience and in college, very confusing. I found this online so I am not surprised: https://www.law360.com/articles/633400/trader-joe-s-hit-with-age-discrimination-class-action
    Trader Joe’s executive management should seriously review their hiring manager’s dispositions of qualified candidates to ensure fair employment practices – please … .

    1. I have also applied to TJ’s numerous times for the last three years. They won’t say why you aren’t hired. How convenient when you age discriminate. They have token old people in some stores but these are friends of people who already work there. Today the young guy on the phone said they don’t hire based on experience. You have to have the right personality and attitude…in other words, an invisible “IT” factor. This is not the company it used to be. I was told this last time they always make room for great candidates, which I am. Only I’m 57 and a woman. All their assistants in this store are male. And they are all young. I see the people stores have hired in lieu of me and want to laugh at these young idiots. Their response is they hire based on your customer service ability. What a load of crap to cover their discrimination practices.

      1. Extremely true how they cover themselves. I once had a Captain who wouldn’t even look at people’s applications. If he didn’t like their face or the sound of their voice. Immediate letter. I use to dig out applications with another manager and go around him to bring those people in. Most worked out well. Beware personal bias and favoritism run the ship.

        1. I have called the store this time to complain about their hiring procedure and laid it on the line. They have flat out told me that they don’t consider experience or skill as an excuse to dismiss credentials and background. It is all subjective so I asked if my smile wasn’t pretty enough? In fact, I have never seen a person of color in any of the stores I frequent. White, young, inexperienced workers with mostly male management, also white and a little older. Why don’t they get in trouble for such blatant discrimination? I suppose they think they’re entitled, the “Gap” of food store chains.

      2. I have found as an older worker – and many other workers – it’s “who you know” for a lot of jobs in the current marketplace. I live in NYC. DEFINITELY an age discrimination factor going on here. However, many job applications ask “does a close
        friend or family member work here?”

        Totally easier to get a job ANYWHERE through nepotism. 2 equally qualified candidates and friend or family member will always be chosen. That is the nature of most businesses these days – personal referrals.

        I don’t think Trader Joe’s is different than any other place of business in that regard. The local wine store has employees ages 21 to 65 working there. I am an older person and the staff has encouraged me to apply for a job there. I also know that many positions like to hire retirees for part time employment because they do not have to provide benefits. Again, ask most people and their friend or family got them an interview.

        I think a lot depends on the location as well. For example in some areas of Florida the population is primarily older. So the pool of prospective employees consists of mainly older workers.

        Another phenomenon I see in the workplace is that younger “bosses” feel uncomfortable supervising older “subordinates”.

        There is no accounting for this. A qualified young person can be supervisor just as well. Maybe that person is willing to work more hours, flexible schedule or less desirable shift.

        There’s a reason I never fill out my age on any job application. Age discrimination is definitely a factor everywhere, there’s no doubt about it.

  3. I can definitely agree as a 10 yr employee who was restructured that the integrity core value that they hide behind as a tool for write ups and terminations is no longer the Trader Joe’s way. The amount of hush hush business that went on leading up to this restructure was extremely disgusting. I personally have 10 years of fantastic reviews with raises and bonuses everytime. Some the highest at my store. Yet without even so much as a trial period for the new mate title description I was bumped down to basic crew. Shame really it use to be a great company and now it’s no longer on the list for great places to work in my state. The new grocery chain that plans to open 500 stores in the states will give them a run for their billions. Maybe it’s a little karma coming back their way. Should be a great Kaizen opportunity to get back on the integrity train and not alienate your senior management staff. Great job Tj’s!

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