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‘Quit or Die’: Three Black Former Kraft Employees File $30M Suit, Claim Company Allowed Routine Acts of Racism and Retaliation In California Plant

Three former Kraft Heinz factory employees are suing their ex-employer after claiming they faced routine harassment, including being called the N-word by former co-workers and supervisors. Furthermore, the trio, who identify as Black and or Black Latino, alleged that they faced retaliation when they informed their superiors. 

On Thursday, Aug. 19, lawyers for former Kraft Heinz employees Alex Horn, Lance Aytman, and Keith Hooker filed a 41-page document in the U.S. Eastern District of California outlining their claims in the federal lawsuit.

Lance Aytman, Keith Hooker, Alex Horn/ CNN Screengrab

All the men allege they were subjected to “a pattern of harassing discriminatory behavior based upon their race” during their tenure at the dairy facility run by Kraft Heinz Foods. The factory is located in Tulare, California, a predominately white and Latino community located 52 miles southeast of Fresno.

In addition, the trio claimed that swastikas were drawn on their lockers and those of other Black employees. The messages read, “no n-ggers as coordinators” and “quit or die n-gger.” The legal claim says Hooker subsequently left the company in May 2018 following the death threats. He had been working there for 22 years. Horn and Aytman began work at the plant in 2011. They were both fired in 2019 on “pretextual grounds,” their claim says. 

“The Tulare Plant was rife with anti-Black slurs, innuendos, threats, and discrimination,” the filing continued. “The anti-Black abuse came from peers and supervisors, who controlled whether plaintiffs would receive promotions, transfers, and raises. Not surprisingly, the supervisors passed over plaintiffs in favor of non-Black employees.”

When the plaintiffs confronted their manager about the treatment they were receiving, the suit claims they were told “to keep their heads down or else they could join the unemployment line.” One of the plaintiffs was “placed on less desirable nightshifts and was forced to operate defunct machines by supervisors with a history of contributing to the anti-Black work environment,” the lawsuit said.

An investigation into their allegations never happened the men say, although a spokesperson for the corporation argued that not only were accusations “several years old,” but an inquiry was launched once the complaints were brought to their attention. 

“We undertook an extensive investigation, including cooperating with law enforcement, to ensure that any behavior that violated our policies, if uncovered, was put to an end,” the company said in a statement.

“Whenever a serious allegation such as this is made, we take immediate and swift action, including conducting a thorough investigation and implementing corrective actions if behaviors contradictory to our values are found.” However, according to the outlet, the company declined to disclose the investigation results because of the litigation.

The three former workers are seeking more than $30 million in damages between them. The thirteen counts in the lawsuit include creating a hostile work environment, discrimination, retaliation, constructive discharge, failure to provide reasonable accommodations, and violating the Ralph Civil Rights Act of 1976 and Tom Bane Civil Rights Act. 

The company told CNN, “Kraft Heinz prides itself on creating diverse and inclusive workplaces, and we have a zero tolerance policy for discrimination or harassment of any kind.”

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