Shipley Do-nuts hit with two lawsuits / Worker abuse alleged; EEOC claims retaliation

 
Paper: Houston Chronicle
Date: Tue 06/27/2006
Section: Business
Page: 3
Edition: 3 STAR

By L.M. SIXEL, HARVEY RICE
Staff

Houston-based chain Shipley Do-nuts is accused in one lawsuit of abusing employees in prisonlike working conditions and in another of retaliating against an employee who filed a discrimination complaint.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit accusing the chain of retaliating against driver Gerardo Guzman after he filed a national origin discriminatory complaint.

Separately, Guzman and 14 employees filed a lawsuit saying that they endured beatings, threats, sexual advances and racial slurs while working in a hot kitchen without air conditioning 40 to 60 hours a week.

Some workers, according to the lawsuit, were forced to pay a supervisor for the opportunity to work overtime or for sick leave.

"We deny all the allegations," said Richard Kaplan, an attorney for Shipley Do-nuts.

Shipley, which got its start in 1936, has more than 190 stores in several Southern states, including 86 in the Houston area, according to the company's Web site.

According to the EEOC, almost immediately after filing the discrimination charge, Guzman was written up for alleged infractions, such as driving too fast and stopping one day to pick up some breakfast tacos. The EEOC also alleges he was followed as he drove his routes.

The infractions were contrived because Guzman had filed a charge of discrimination, said Rudy Sustaita, the EEOC lawyer in charge of the case. He couldn't even speed if he wanted to because there was a governor on the truck that prevented him from exceeding the speed limit.

As for the breakfast-taco stop, Guzman's supervisor had given him permission, Sustaita said.

"It reached the point of absurdity that someone was taking pictures of him stopping at a taco stand," Sustaita said.

The lawsuit, filed by the 15 employees, including Guzman, accuses the donut company of keeping workers as "virtual prisoners," forced to work behind locked doors and forbidding them from leaving the plant on North Main Street for lunch.

The lawsuit also alleges that one of the supervisors at the production plant in Houston forced the employees to give him their identification, which he used to obtain loans from the company in their names.

The supervisor kept either all or a substantial portion of the money, according to the lawsuit.


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