Women in Queens supermarkets pigeonholed, EEOC suit claims

Ever notice how many women are cashiers at grocery stores, and how few work in any other departments, especially the meat counter, bakery, and behind the management desk? That's what female workers at Queens, New York supermarkets Key Food and Food Dynasty noticed; and they began to find the practices suspicious in 2006 when a woman applied for a position at a Food Dynasty in the Ridgewood neighborhood in Queens.

Nataliya Goines would have been happy to work as a cashier, but was told there were no positions available, so she asked to be considered for a job as a stocker. "We don't hire women as stockers," was the response. She, like all the other female applicants over the past 20 years, would only be considered for the cashier position. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission began investigating, determining that 90% of cashiers were women, and almost no women were hired in grocery, bakery, produce, dairy or frozen departments. Yesterday, the EEOC filed a sex discrimination suit in Brooklyn Federal Court.

Neither the owners of the group of three stores, Ahmad Zahriyeh and Mufeed Siad, nor their attorney would comment on the case; they told New York Times reporter Jennifer 8. Lee they hadn't yet seen the suit. But it's unusual for a case to get this far and this may be comment enough.

In 2002, I was a member of the management team where an EEOC discrimination complaint was made (I wasn't a manager at the time of the employee's dismissal). Ultimately, the commission didn't find the former employee in question had been subject to discrimination; but my experience with the process informs my analysis here. The EEOC does not go forward with a federal lawsuit without having determined to its satisfaction that discrimination does exist; and having gone through considerable effort to reach "conciliation" out of court. That Zahriyeh and Siad failed to agree to less discriminatory practices, accepting women in other positions outside of the checkout lane

Grocery stores have been a battleground in the past few decades for sex discrimination cases; in the 1990s, both Publix and Lucky Stores were sued over sex discrimination. Both lost their cases.

It's obvious that the smart (and cheap, and simple) course for Zahriyeh and Siad would have been to simply acquiesce to the EEOC's demands and hire women in roles other than cashier. That they refused demonstrates a (perhaps) boneheaded stubbornness rarely seen in American business today. If the company's lawyers are worth their salt, they'll change the stores' policy before the gavel goes down in Brooklyn Federal Court. If the company's management is consistent with the news reported about the grocery stores thus far, they'll refuse until past the point of incredulity.

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