CHICAGO – A federal judge will allow current and former Jewel Food store managers to pursue their age discrimination suit against the supermarket chain as a group, rather than individually, saying the plaintiffs' claims are similar enough to proceed together.
The May 2 ruling, issued by Judge Manish Shah of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, favored seven former and current Jewel Food store directors in their joint action against the supermarket chain.
Jewel is based in suburban Itasca with almost 200 stores in Indiana, Iowa, and Illinois, with most in the Chicago area. Plaintiffs were between the ages of 56 and 61 when they filed their suit in 2017. They reside in Cook, Will, Kane, DuPage and Kendall counties. Of the plaintiffs, two are still employed, but on leave. Two others have resigned. Two havie retired, and one has been fired, according to court papers.
Plaintiffs said Jewel violated the U.S. Age Discrimination in Employment Act, with one plaintiff also making a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to plaintiffs, Jewel moved in 2011 to reduce the number of its store directors, offering early buyout severance packages. Plaintiffs were among directors who did not accept the offers.
As an alleged consequence of their refusals, plaintiffs alleged the company’s district managers put them under unwarranted and petty scrutiny, subjecting them to unjustified criticism and setting unattainable sales goals, all on the basis of their age.
Jewel denied wrongdoing and denied the company had a policy of such discrimination. Jewel also filed a motion to split the action into seven separate suits, on grounds each plaintiff presents a "unique" case. Jewel argued plaintiffs' claims "vary greatly, as do the individuals who allegedly discriminated against them - i.e., their district managers - and the applicable relevant time period."
Jewel further contended plaintiffs did not work together, did not allege any company policy that affected them, and that their current statuses with the company vary. Jewel also asserted separate proceedings will "allow the parties to better articulate their individualized claims and defenses, which will ultimately foster swifter resolution for all involved.”
Shah disagreed with Jewel's arguments.
"Plaintiffs’ claims share common job positions, acts of discrimination, and type of discrimination; and contain some overlaps in timing and supervisors," he wrote. "These similarities are sufficient to establish that, despite their differences, the claims are logically connected and constitute the same transaction or series of occurrences. The claims are properly joined."
Shah did note the claims could eventually be divided, but it would be "premature" to do so at this stage, adding there are "efficiencies to be gained" by keeping the claims together for now. Presuming Jewel files a motion for summary judgment, that would be the point at which it would be more suitable to again address separating the claims.
"It may be that, as Jewel claims, a joint trial of all seven plaintiffs will be unwieldy or prejudicial, but that determination is better made after summary judgment rulings yield a clearer picture of what trial will entail," Shah wrote.
Plaintiffs are represented by the firm of Esposito & Staubus, of Burr Ridge.
Jewel is defended by the Chicago firm of Littler Mendelson P.C.