- Ten Black employees, including men and women, have sued Sweetgreen and two “head coaches” for racial discrimination and sexual harassment experienced in several New York restaurants, according to a copy of the suit emailed to Restaurant Dive.
- The lawsuit, which was filed in the New York State Court Thursday, alleges the employees of over a half-dozen locations were regularly subjected to the use of the N-word by their managers and/or other coworkers, among other claims of derogatory comments.
- Sexual harassment and racial discrimination continue to plague the restaurant industry, with lawsuits filed against operators at chains like McDonald’s, Jack in the Box and Bojangles in the past year.
Sweetgreen highlights various diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives on its website, including anti-bias trainings and a commitment to “examining and updating our recruitment, hiring, and promotion practices to build more diverse representation in leadership and management.”
“At Sweetgreen, we are committed to diversity as well as a safe and inclusive workplace,” a Sweetgreen spokesperson said in an email to Restaurant Dive. “We take these accusations seriously and do not tolerate any form of harassment, discrimination, or unsafe working conditions. We are unable to comment further on any pending legal matters.”
“For too many Black employees, having to listen to managers and co-workers use racial slurs is just a part of their daily work environment,” Avi Mermelstein of Arenson, Dittmar & Karban, the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, said in a statement. “That’s both wrong and illegal. Being exposed to constant harassment creates a hostile and psychologically unsafe work environment and companies simply must do better to protect their employees.”
The lawsuit against Sweetgreen also claims that the plaintiffs’ coworkers called them “monkeys,” “gorilla,” “negra,” and “lazy,” on a regular basis. The plaintiff’s Hispanic managers allegedly failed to hire or promote qualified Black employees, claiming that “Hispanics work harder than African Americans,” according to a press release announcing the lawsuit. Complaints to upper management at Sweetgreen were largely ignored and never addressed, the suit claims.
Additionally, Hispanic workers were allegedly given more desirable tasks and allowed to play their favorite music loudly, while asking Black employees to turn off their music. Managers regularly let Hispanic workers leave early while the manager would then clock them out at the appropriate time. This was never done for Black employees, the lawsuit states.
Female employees were also subjected to sexual harassment by managers “including inappropriate touching, dancing with twerking female subordinates.” Managers would make comments about female customers and employees saying, “She looks good. I would do her,” and “Wow, you better be careful how you bend over.”
A similar lawsuit was originally filed March 13 with two plaintiffs before the additional eight plaintiffs coming forward about experiencing similar behavior at different locations, the press release said.