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Big-box hardware store supplies discrimination

March 29, 2013

by Laura Savage

The Bayview District Lowe’s is in the spotlight, but not for its stellar deals or quality customer service. Six plaintiffs have filed suit against the big-box hardware store, claiming racial and gender discrimination, prejudice, differential treatment and unlawful termination.

Angela Alioto, plaintiff suing LoweGÇÖs Mel Simpson, Raynetta Hart, Annette Lewis, Ceasar Ausejo, Denza M. Young 032213 by
Outside her law offices, Angela Alioto, third from left, stands resolute with five of the six plaintiffs in a suit she just filed against Lowe’s. As a condition of building the big-box store, Lowe’s promised to hire locally. The store is located on Bayshore Boulevard in the Bayview, where the population is over 90 percent people of color and unemployment is astronomical. That promise, say Alioto and the plaintiffs, was not kept. From left, the plaintiffs are Mel Simpson, Raynetta Hart, Annette Lewis, Ceasar Ausejo and Denza M. Young. – Photo: Beck Diefenbach, special to the Chronicle
Among the complaints, plaintiffs say that the Bayview Lowe’s store repeatedly under-trained, fired and under-paid workers of color. It also states that when requests or complaints were made in the store by those employees, disciplinary retaliation was practiced by supervisors and upper management.

For its side, a spokeswoman on behalf of the Lowe’s company, in a statement given to the San Francisco Chronicle in an article dated March 23, 2013, said it hasn’t reviewed the suit as of yet. She furthered claimed that Lowe’s was in “compliance with the hiring agreement made with San Francisco.”

“It’s just a flat out lie. The corporation received the … complaint. It’s a prerequisite to filing,” says Angela Alioto, attorney for the plaintiffs in the suit.

The lawsuit also claims that the retailer led the City to believe that it would hire local residents and keep them on as employees. What is happening, according to the plaintiffs in the suit and others not named in the suit, is the company hired African American and Latino residents then fired them shortly after the store opened.

A spokeswoman on behalf of the Lowe’s company claimed that Lowe’s was in “compliance with the hiring agreement made with San Francisco.”

“It’s called fraud,” said Alioto. “Getting a contract based on a promise. Once they get the contract, they don’t feel like they need to fulfill [the terms of the contract]. And it’s been going on for years in San Francisco.”

Promises for the future

The hiring contract was a condition put in place by the city of San Francisco when it entered into an agreement with Home Depot, who previously owned the site on Bayshore Boulevard. Lowe’s bought the site and contract from Home Depot, thus inheriting the contract.

Conditions included a “$75,000 contribution to workforce training and $100,000 to San Francisco’s day labor program.” In addition, Lowe’s agreed to hiring 75 percent of its workforce from San Francisco.

“They specifically told us, ‘It’s not a job, it’s a career,’” remembers Mel Simpson, former Lowe’s plumbing sales specialist, about how employment with Lowe’s was presented. “They didn’t even want us to use the word job. They said career.”

Mayor Gavin Newsom cuts ribbon at Bayview LoweGÇÖs 110410 by Justin Sullivan, Getty
Then-Mayor Gavin Newsom cut the ribbon at the Bayview District Lowe’s on Nov. 4, 2010, “Thank you, Lowe’s, for following through on all your promises,” he said, flanked by African American Lowe’s employees in maroon aprons. “So far, you’re one of the good ones, and we want to keep saying that for years and years to come.” – Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images
At the 2010 opening ceremony for the first Lowe’s store in San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom spoke of Lowe’s commitment to help revitalize the Bayview Hunters Point community.

“Bayshore Boulevard has served as a vital home improvement commercial corridor in San Francisco for decades, and this new Lowe’s will foster the growth and revitalization of the neighborhood and boost our local economy,” said Newsom.

Reality hits

Right after the opening, things just started changing, claims Simpson. He says that the practice of firing African Americans was an ongoing situation.

“The percentage seemed to be kind of balanced when the store opened,” says Simpson. “But shortly after, people started disappearing like flies. A lot of them were African American. Everybody who came to work there was in fear. It was like working on a plantation.”

Lowe’s is subject to the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) because it employs more than 500 employees and therefore can be sued if thought to be in violation.

“They can have 100 percent Black people, but you can’t fire people and replace them with white [new hires] … and make up a lie about their performance” as a means to get rid of them, said Alioto. “This really was using people to get what [Lowe’s] wanted.”

Not only were Blacks being fired without just cause, they were being subject to humiliation and harassment by management.

“Everybody who came to work there was in fear. It was like working on a plantation.”

Another plaintiff, who has opted to be anonymous (Plaintiff X) for fear of retaliation and the affect on any possible future employment, claims she was harassed after she repeatedly requested more training to do her job competently. Her training requests were denied and she was subject to humiliation by supervisors.

She claims she was accused of misplacing – or stealing – money and made to search for the missing amount, then threatened with firing if it wasn’t found. The money was later found to have been put away by a late-shift supervisor. No apology was given.

Not only were Blacks being fired without just cause, they were being subject to humiliation and harassment by management.

“Immediately I was ostracized. I was isolated, sent into another room to do projects for days at a time so I was out of the office [and therefore] wasn’t able to get the training [that was being] given to others. That went on for months,” she says. “I had been targeted by all the upper management, one after the other.”

She had been unemployed for two years when she was hired by Lowe’s. She felt it a good move to have the opportunity to work in her community.

She told herself, “If this is a Lowe’s, I’m going to apply because I’m right here in the community. I was just excited.”

Like Simpson, Plaintiff X says she was promised a career and opportunity to advance within the company.

Not only is racial discrimination an issue in the suit, but gender bias and discrimination is mentioned as well.

Although not being claimed by a Bayview Lowe’s store employee, an exclusionary culture is the case at other Lowe’s stores, mainly the Union City location named in the suit.

Raynetta Hart, a five-year Lowe’s employee, claims that during her tenure as human resources manager in the Union City Lowe’s she was purposely left out of important senior staff meetings.

Not only is racial discrimination an issue in the suit, but gender bias and discrimination is mentioned as well.

As the only female senior manager, she was not allowed to attend senior staff meetings. When she objected and voiced her disapproval of the practice, two other women were hired on as managers, but she was still subject to constant harassment.

“I always felt left out,” says Hart. “Especially after that happened … I just felt like I was a secretary as opposed to being a manager. I kind of felt like the woman wasn’t allowed to be part of the group. I was being subjected to treatment by this person that wasn’t appropriate to the work environment.”

Hart added that when she got her human resources supervisors involved, complaints were swept under the rug.

Re-occurring themes

What seems to be the running theme is that Lowe’s policy is to overwork, mistreat then get rid of workers that demand respect and hold the company to its promises.

The Lowe’s website boasts a mission and values statement with the following:

“We’re better able to do what’s right for our customers and our communities by doing what’s right for our employees. In our workplaces, we strive to treat employees with respect and support while maintaining a safe work environment.”

Since the company has been made aware of the suit, Plaintiff X says, “They’ve actually been civil. I thought to myself, ‘This is the way you should’ve been treating me all along.’”

Not only has the Bayview store seemingly lost sight of its mission and values, it seems the intent was never to extend these values to women or employees of color past an initial time period.

“There’s no way that there’s a time limit on how [long] African Americans or minorities can be hired [or kept as employees]. I’d be shocked if there was a time limit. That would defeat the whole purpose” of the hiring contract, said Alioto.

Not only has the Bayview store seemingly lost sight of its mission and values, it seems the intent was never to extend these values to women or employees of color past an initial time period.

What’s true is that these plaintiffs believed what they were told when hired by Lowe’s: They were gaining a career and joining a corporate family that would treat them with respect and value them. Unfortunately the reality was far from that, according to the plaintiffs.

“My workmanship there was great. I worked very hard there. I thought I had the American dream,” said Simpson. “I can’t believe this kind of stuff [is happening] in the 21st century, in this day and age!”

“These are hard working people with a great track record,” said Alioto. “That’s really important. These are not people coming in late. These are people working their heart out and loving it. Then out of nowhere get fired, and the white guy with no expertise comes in. It’s devastating, in my opinion, for the community. It just makes things worse. They would rather have never been hired than to be treated that way.”

Laura Savage is a graduating senior in journalism at San Francisco State University and is interning with the SF Bay View this semester. She can be reached at lsavage26@gmail.com.

 

4 thoughts on “Big-box hardware store supplies discrimination

  1. Marie J Franklin

    Why does LOWES “ONE STORE” unfair employment practices seem astonishing to BVHP???
    Look around the Community you will find that this practice has long been in force.

    You know, during the early development of BVHP, the methodology was simply easy for
    “NEW” community businesses to gain access to the BAYVIEW :

    HERE’S HOW IT WORKED

    Here’s how they achieved most SF Businesses approval to operate in BVHP:

    “We (the new business spokes-persons) make an appointment to recite BVHP Resident under-employment statistics during our presentation at SF BOS hearings, and promise that our Priority is to HIRE BVHP RESIDENTS …. After the BOS Hearing, our Business will be approved then we will successfully and quietly replace BVHP’ unskilled residents with Our Choice Employees. which shall become OUR Permanent Business WORK FORCE!”

    “OUR Real plan is to hire BVHP residents, then fire them for any reason.
    After the firing, we simply claim there are NO other Qualified Candidates in BVHP.
    Heck, No ONE monitors local hiring after the grand opening anyway.”

    Now, folks This practice began with JOINT HOUSING- SFRA and continues today.
    Consequently, BVHP has been successfully OCCUPIED by non resident businesses, non resident new and or affordable decent housing —

    Who’s GOING TO STEP UP TO THE PLATE AND FINALLY ADDRESS the LOCAL BUSINESS & HIRING Practices of BVHP?
    Who’s going to monitor the now LOCAL business hiring and labor practice?
    How many Over- night- POP-UP NEW Businesses are there in BVHP?
    What are BVHP NEW BUSINESSES employment ratio?

    COOD WORK for Exposing LOWES. However, this is just a TIP OF THE BVHP EMPLOYMENT PERVERBIAL ICEBERG!
    This is one issue I fully support, incluing LOWES!

    Reply
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    The hiring contract was a condition put in place by the city of San Francisco when it entered into an agreement with Home Depot, who previously owned the site on Bay shore Boulevard. Lowe’s bought the site and contract from Home Depot, thus inheriting the contract.

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