A former Portland Trader Joe's employee alleges in a lawsuit that she was fired one week after raising concerns to regional management about the company's policy prohibiting employees from wearing pins and messaging that support the Black Lives Matter movement.
The employee also alleges that the store engaged in "hostile and discriminatory treatment" of Black employees.
Sydney Satre, who was employed from April to October 2020 at the Trader Joe's on Southeast César E. Chávez Boulevard, filed a whistleblower lawsuit in Multnomah County Circuit Court on March 3. Oregon Public Broadcasting first reported the complaint.
The lawsuit alleges that in June, the store's supervisor, Sarah Wilson, told employees they were not allowed to wear pins or messaging supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. The complaint alleges that store employees had previously worn items with messaging—including pins or face masks supporting the LGBTQ community—without issue.
After opposition from employees, the lawsuit says, Trader Joe's reversed that rule at the César Chávez store in mid-June, thus allowing staff at that location to wear Black Lives Matter messaging. However, the complaint says, employees at other Trader Joe's locations in the city were still prohibited from supporting Black Lives Matter at work.
During the summer, the complaint says, Satre and her co-workers continued to express concerns to their supervisor about the company's policy on Black Lives Matter messaging and the treatment of Black employees.
"They pushed Trader Joe's to do more to match the rhetoric of its public statement in support of Black Lives Matter," the complaint says. According to the lawsuit, Trader Joe's has an "open door policy" that encourages employees to discuss concerns with supervisors and regional managers, and that they "will not be disciplined or otherwise penalized because of [their] complaint."
In August, the complaint says, Satre was dinged during a performance review. She also received a "small raise," the complaint says, which she believed would have been bigger if she hadn't been so vocal.
"Ms. Satre understood this criticism to be directly correlated to her vocal support of Black employees and Black Lives Matter," the lawsuit says. "Other employees who were supportive of Black employees and Black Lives Matter also saw criticism reflected in their performance reviews or did not receive raises as they had in past years."
Months later, on Oct. 1, the uniform protocols changed again: The supervisor allegedly distributed a message forbidding employees from placing "added logos, statements, décor, symbolism, or messages of any kind" onto their uniforms.
The employees opposed the rule change. To address their concerns, the complaint says, the store supervisor arranged for the employees to meet with Tim Martin, Trader Joe's regional manager. Wilson, the supervisor, allegedly encouraged the employees to "bring their thoughts, frustrations, and ideas to the meeting with Mr. Martin," the lawsuit says.
On Oct. 13, Satre and her co-workers met with the regional manager, Martin. He allegedly told Satre directly that the meeting was a "safe space" to express her concerns, the complaint says. Satre then read to Martin and Wilson a letter that she had written condemning the store's alleged treatment of Black employees and the Black Lives Matter movement.
On Oct. 20, one week after the meeting with regional management and the supervisor, the complaint says, the supervisor fired Satre. In the termination letter, the supervisor explicitly addresses Satre's criticism of the store's policies regarding Black Lives Matter.
"You state we don't practice what we preach in our Values and are taking a neutral stance on Black Lives Matter," the letter says. "Trader Joe's strongly disagrees with your statements. It is clear from your letter that you do not support Trader Joe's nor like working for the company. For this reason, we will be processing your separation from Trader Joe's effective immediately."
Satre is suing Trader Joe's, her supervisor and the regional manager. She alleges whistleblower retaliation, retaliation for opposing discrimination, associational race discrimination, and aiding and abetting discrimination and retaliation. She is seeking $350,000.
Trader Joe's did not respond to a request for comment.