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
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
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
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
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.