Four former Jewel Osco store managers, each between 59-61 years old, have sued the Chicago area supermarket chain for age discrimination, claiming they were set up to fail and replaced for being too old.
On Jan. 16, plaintiffs Timothy Cesario, Steve Cieslak, Gregory LaRocco and James Lee filed suit in Chicago federal court against Jewel-Osco and its corporate parent companies, including New Albertson’s Inc., alleging the company violated the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act in deciding to transfer the men to different stores and then either fire them or move them onto long-term or short-term disability status to replace them with younger managers.
According to the complaint, all four of the plaintiffs had worked for decades at Chicago area Jewel Osco stores. The complaint said LaRocco and Lee had each attained the position of Osco store director, while Cesario and Cieslak were employed as Jewel store directors.
However, in 2011, the complaint said, Jewel-Osco revised its store management structure, consolidating the two store director positions – one for the food store and another for the drug store - at each location to just one manager overseeing all operations at Jewel-Osco stores.
At that time, the complaint said all four plaintiffs were transferred from their stores to the posts of store directors at different Jewel-Osco stores.
According to the complaint, Cesario was transferred from his post as Jewel store director at Jewel-Osco Store #114 in Wheaton to become the Jewel-Osco store director at Store #3278 in Lombard; Cieslak was transferred from Store #3033 in Chicago to Store #3302 in Chicago and then to Store #3236 in Oak Park; LaRocco was transferred from Store #664 in Wheaton to Store #3284 in Villa Park and then to Store #3272 in DeKalb; and Lee was transferred from Store #123 in Chicago to Store #3288 in Oak Park, then to Store #3097 in Downers Grove and then to Store #3170 in Chicago.
LaRocco and Lee said they had turned down company “reduction-in-force” buy-out offers, electing to continue working for Jewel-Osco.
The complaint said all the managers were transferred to stores that had been underperforming and were challenged in other ways.
The plaintiffs listed a number of ways they alleged the company hampered their work. Cieslak, for instance, alleged his store was left to founder in the face of increased competition from a newly opened nearby Mariano’s supermarket, while the company’s policy purportedly was to remodel and staff with “the best available associates” stores located near a store newly opened by the Chicago area rival grocer. Further, Cieslak said, after he filed a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Jewel-Osco transferred out his assistant manager, replacing that assistant with another who was on medical leave, essentially leaving Cieslak with no assistant manager.
The plaintiffs further alleged their superiors gave them undue negative performance reviews, and subjected them to unjustified criticism, often over relatively small matters. Cesario, for instance, alleged his supervisors repeatedly visited his stores for inspections multiple times over a span of just three weeks and once “reprimanded (him) for apple cores not being in perfect alignment.”
The plaintiffs alleged their stores consistently performed well and earnings increased. Yet they said their supervisors repeatedly refused their requests for transfers to other stores, while repeatedly transferring other younger managers.
LaRocco and Lee were each fired, and were not “given the opportunity to choose a demotion to assistant manager or to be transferred to a different store,” which the complaint alleged was customary for managers who otherwise would be terminated, particularly those with many years of employment with the company.
According to the complaint, Cesario and Cieslak are on disability leave.
All four said they were replaced by younger managers.
All four plaintiffs filed discrimination complaints with the EEOC and received permission to pursue their claims in court.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to award unspecified damages, including lost wages and benefits, front pay, back pay and punitive damages, plus attorney fees.
The plaintiffs are represented in the action by attorneys Nicholas F. Esposito, Bradley K. Staubus, Christopher K. Crimer and Christopher P. Rubey, of the firm of Esposito & Staubus LLP, of Burr Ridge.