Man claims discrimination in suit against grocer

Manuel Hinojos

A Santa Fe man who says he worked for the Lowe’s grocery chain for more than 20 years is suing the company, alleging that management had a practice of discriminating against “Hispanic and Mexican” employees and sought to transform its St. Michael’s Drive location into one “more oriented towards serving Anglo customers.”

Manuel Hinojos, 64, says in a complaint filed May 29 in state District Court that he was hired to work in the chain’s Española location in 1994 and worked his way up to manager before he was transferred to the Santa Fe store in 2001. His lawsuit says he worked there until he was fired in 2016 — while undergoing treatment for cancer — after he complained about management’s strategic discrimination against certain employees and customers.

Joel Griffith a spokesman for Pay and Save Inc., which does business under the name Lowe’s Market, declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying, “I’m not going to respond to that.”

Hinojos’ complaint accuses the chain of violating the Human Rights Act and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The suit says almost every employee of the Santa Fe store — which is now called Food King but is still owned by Pay and Save Inc. — was “nonwhite,” but the number of “Hispanics and Mexicans” in management was small and “not at all representative of Lowe’s overall workforce.”

Hinojos’ complaint says the company “preserved the skewed structure by failing to openly post job opportunities” and used a “tap-on-the-shoulder promotion practice.”

The lawsuit alleges that upper-level management at Lowe’s had an “explicit plan” called the “50-50 mix” intended to shift the racial profile of the store’s customers from about 80 percent Hispanic to one that was 50 percent Anglo.

“To whiten the Santa Fe stores’ client base,” the complaint says, “Lowe’s systematically catered to white customers at the expense of Hispanic and Mexican customers.”

For example, the complaint says, a regional manager refused to stock the “green flavor of Monster energy drink favored by Mexican customers” in its cold drinks cooler and “instead marketed less popular kombucha drinks,” and pushed to have a “Mexican bread” removed from the store’s shelves, citing the need to “achieve the 50-50 mix.”

In 2016, after an exchange with the regional manager over the issue, Hinojos’ lawsuit says, he filed a written complaint with management about the regional manger’s “insistence on discriminating to achieve the ‘50-50 mix’ ” and was fired less than a week later for “insubordination.”

Hinojos says in his complaint that in his 21 years with the company, he was never disciplined, written up or sanctioned. However, he says the company handled his termination and issues surrounding his medical leave and other benefits in ways that did not adhere to company policies.

“Mr. Hinojos was fired by Lowe’s in retaliation for voicing his concern about Lowe’s discrimination against Hispanics and Mexicans, a protected activity,” his lawsuit says, “because he suffered from a serious medical condition and because Lowe’s stood to gain financially from terminating a long-term employee who was entitled to benefits including, but not limited to, health insurance coverage for his ongoing medical expenses.”

Follow Phaedra Haywood on Twitter @phaedraann.