Three ex-employees in Chubbuck sue Wal-Mart

The former assistant managers allege racial and disability discrimination and a hostile environment.

IDAHO STATE JOURNALApril 18, 2014 

The plaintiffs are John Brian, a Hispanic man who was hired to work at Wal-Mart in 2002; William Goodman, an employee hired in 2000; and Sanju Choudhury, a native of India who started working at the store in 2009. They have sued the company and the Chubbuck store's manager.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Pocatello, the plaintiffs said conditions that eventually led to their terminations or resignations began with the hiring of Robert Pearson in early 2011 as manager. He supervised all three assistant managers.

The lawsuit contends that Brian was openly criticized during daily managerial meetings while Caucasian employees in similar positions were treated in a more friendly manner. He was the target of several forms of discipline for issues also prevalent in the areas overseen by Caucasian managers who were not similarly disciplined, the suit said.

In August 2011, Brian took a monthlong leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act because of a diagnosis of stress and depression over the increased pressure and demands from Pearson, the lawsuit said. Brian contends he was further targeted upon his return. In December 2011, the suit said, Brian was terminated with little explanation.

FMLA leave was at the center of the issues William Goodman said he experienced with Pearson. Goodman resigned in April of 2013 "because of the hostile treatment, threats and adverse actions that had been taken against him due to his disabilities and in retaliation for his taking approved FMLA leave," the suit contends.

Choudhury said he felt hostility from Pearson almost immediately. He contends that he was frequently the target of discipline by Pearson, which also included mentors being assigned to him - something the suit said was not done to any nonminority assistant managers.

The suit also contends that Choudhury experienced several incidents in which Pearson addressed him in a discriminatory manner specific to his Indian heritage and to his being an immigrant.

"Plaintiff Choudhury was continually told and heard comments that he was a foreigner and did not understand the American way of doing things," the lawsuit said.

Choudhury resigned in August 2012 because of "the ongoing, ever-present and seemingly growing hostility and discrimination he felt," the lawsuit said.

Pearson did not return calls seeking comment, and Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart did not respond to an online media request seeking comment.

The suit is seeking unspecified damages exceeding $10,000.

Two of the former employees are also claiming constructive discharge or that conditions were made so intolerable that they were forced to quit.

Their attorney, Richard Hearn, said that all three cases were initially brought before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Idaho Human Rights Commission, as required by law. Those two entities vetted the complaints against the former employer. Then accusations by the former employees are filed and the defendants have an opportunity to respond.

The governmental entity handling the cases then issues a letter giving employees the right to sue if that is the decision.

"We got a letter in all three cases," Hearn said.

That was in January and Hearn filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Pocatello on April 10, just shy of the 90 days limit for filing a lawsuit.

Once the suit is filed, the plaintiff then has four months to serve the defendant or defendants with notice of the suit.

Hearn said he has not yet served Wal-Mart or Pearson because he is still in the process of finalizing the complaint he filed and will amend it in the coming weeks. Once that is complete, the attorney will then serve notice to the defendants in the case.

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