retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Santa Barbara Independent reports that "a class action discrimination lawsuit was filed in Santa Barbara Superior Court against Haggen Food & Pharmacy on behalf of William Morris, a 60-year-old developmentally disabled man who had worked as a courtesy clerk for over three years at the Fairview Vons location that Haggen bought, and on behalf of all California-based developmentally disabled courtesy clerks that Haggen has laid off since the beginning of this year."

The complaint says that Haggen "unfairly terminated developmentally disabled courtesy clerks when they 'engaged in a pattern and practice of discrimination against developmentally disabled employees by disproportionately terminating them from Haggen employment'."

Haggen - which added 146 stores to its 18-unit fleet when it acquired supermarkets that had to be divested because of the Albertsons acquisition of Safeway - has been making cuts to compensate for the fact that sales are considerably below projections and its stores have been unable to get much traction in the new markets.

Haggen has responded to the suit by saying that the "decision to eliminate the Clerks Helper job classification in our Pacific Southwest Region stores was made out of business necessity.” The story says that Haggen "expressed remorse for those people who are now out of work and claims to be hiring ex-employees back as well as helping them find jobs elsewhere."
KC's View:
guess that this was inevitable once Haggen announced the laying off of developmentally disabled workers. Though, to be fair, I have no idea whether it is justified ... I guess we'll have to wait for the case to be settled one way or the other.

It does begin to seem as if Haggen just cannot get a break ... but in this case, whether the layoffs were justified or not, it was just tone deaf to lay these folks off. As I pointed out when it first happened, the programs that place developmentally disabled workers in stores tend to be community-driven programs ... and by eliminating all these workers, Haggen is leaving a bad taste in the mouths of customers and communities that it wants and needs to serve. (Beyond the fact that the company's stores are not exactly bowling anyone over.)

Here are two things that ought to happen, right now.

Somebody at a company competing with Haggen ought to hire those developmentally disabled folks right now. Don't put out a press release, don't make a big deal of it ... Just do it. Let the karma then work in your favor.

And at Haggen, they need to hire somebody with strong public relations sense who is going to tell them what they need to know, even if it is not what they want to hear.