Customers are pushing carts near Stew Leonard’s supermarket in Paramus, New Jersey, USA, on Tuesday, May 12, 2020. Stew Leonard Jr. said the meat plant used by the company is operating at about 70 percent and he expects it to bounce to full capacity in about a month, according to the CT Post.

Angus Mordant Bloomberg | Getty Images

A new federal lawsuit accuses New York City grocery store manager Stew Leonard of racist and sexist comments against workers and customers.

Former longtime employee Robert Crosby Jr. also claims in his civil complaint that he was fired in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act after his clash with Covid-19 made him disabled.

Crosby, a 58-year-old father of four, accuses Stu Leonard and CEO Stu Leonard Jr. of creating a hostile work environment. The lawsuit cites “systemic racial, sexual, religious and age-discriminatory practices” carried out by management.

Crosby is claiming at least $ 500,000 in damages in a lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

The claims in the suit contrast with the farmer image of the grocery chain once praised by President Ronald Reagan and business guru Tom Peters. Leonard’s first Stew opened in 1969 as a small dairy store in Norwalk, Connecticut. In the following decades, the store with a small zoo, exhibitions with farm-themed products and animatronic singing animals gained explosive growth in size, popularity and advertising.

The family-owned company currently has nearly $ 400 million in annual revenue in seven locations in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey.

Leonard Jr. declined to comment on accusations of Crosby’s suit.

“Robert Crosby Jr. worked for Sue Leonardo for almost 20 years, but unfortunately we had to part ways,” Leonard Jr. said in a statement to CNBC on Tuesday. “We understand that he has filed a lawsuit and we will review it with our attorneys, however we are not commenting on the lawsuit.”

Crosby, a former loss prevention manager, “verbally opposed” the alleged insults and practices during his tenure, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also alleges that Leonard Jr. joked about the discovery a few years ago of human remains and tombstones from an abandoned orthodox Jewish cemetery located in and near a store in Yonkers, New York. The suit says the workers were ordered to bury the tombstones so that “no one could find them” the store’s president, Leonard Jr.’s cousin, who later told them to throw the remains in a landfill.

Crosby’s lawsuit alleges that since he joined Yonkers in 2001, he and his colleagues have “been exposed to a hostile and toxic environment in the workplace.”

The lawsuit alleges that Leonard Jr. repeatedly called the women “b —–,” called the two white Jewish co-workers his “resident Jews,” regularly called the black co-workers “thugs” and the word N, and commented on black body parts. employees. Crosby’s costume also says he witnessed how Leonard Jr. repeatedly said that Jews were “the worst customers to deal with.”

The costume also describes a campaign in the early 2000s at which Leonard Jr. “insisted that senior management wear sexually inappropriate clothing, including fake breasts, underwear, sex toys, and represent sexually intrusive and abusive walls.” .

Crosby claims to have repeatedly complained about the alleged actions of Leonardo Jr., the company’s head of human resources. In a suit, he says she told him that “Stew just goes out” and that “it doesn’t have a filter”.

Fighting Covid

According to Crosby’s lawsuit, when the coronavirus began to spread widely in the United States in March 2020, Crosby complained about the lack of personal protective equipment in the store, lack of social distancing and a ban on wearing protective masks on the spot. These complaints went unheeded, the lawsuit said.

Crosby’s suit says he contracted Covid in April 2020 after 50 employees gave a positive result the previous month. He says he developed symptoms that were “extremely life-threatening” and included “loss of smell and taste, nausea, brain fog, Epstein-Barr syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome” and memory loss. It took hospitalization, the suit adds.

Stu Leonard Jr.

Adam Jeffery CNBC

The suit says he designed “Long Haul Covid” and that he was pressured to return to work after he was reluctantly given medical leave. (Long-term patients with Covid experience symptoms for months after infection.) During the next six-day hospital stay in September 2020 due to complications from Covid, Yonkers vice president ordered Crosby to “work from his hospital bed.”

Crosby says he was fired later that month after Sue Leonard refused to give him a short break from work so he could recover from Kovid, according to his lawsuit.

Crosby filed the lawsuit after receiving a report of probable causes issued by the New York State Human Rights Division in response to accusations of discrimination he filed against Sue Leonard in 2021.

The report said the department had determined that there was a probable reason to believe that Stu Leonard and Leonard Jr. were engaged in illegal discriminatory practices. It also states that Crosby claimed that Leonard would be “free to use the word ‘N’ several times”. In March, the Federal Equal Employment Commission issued a notice to Crosby about the right to sue Stew Leonard’s after he filed an EEOC complaint against his former employer.

The cemetery dispute

Crosby also describes in his lawsuit the discovery of tombstones from May 2004 to 2009 on leased land occupied by Stew Leonard’s in Yonkers.

Crosby claims that the head of the company ordered him and his colleagues to bury the tombstones “where no one can find them.” He also claims they were told they would lose their jobs if anyone found out.

In 2009, according to the lawsuit, Crosby and other workers discovered human bones during a fire investigation. They were told to “get the bags out of the coffee bag and throw the bones in the dump,” the suit said.

“Defendant Leonard Jr. jokingly called the discovery of human remains and tombstones, which were identified as the remains of an orthodox Jewish cemetery, the Holocaust at Yonkers,” the lawsuit said.

Crosby’s suit claims he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and other illnesses after authorities threatened to fire him if he told others about the bones.

Crosby’s allegations may shed new light on a story that originated in 2004, when the New York Attorney General’s Office claimed that the New Jersey developer may not have complied with a 1989 court ruling ordering the removal of all remains from the cemetery. when they developed the Yonkers site, which housed Stew Leonard’s and two other stores, Costco and Home Depot. It is believed that the remains were reburied in Israel, the media reported at the time.

According to published reports, two tombstones were found in 2004 following the allegations.

The then Attorney General of New York, Eliot Spitzer, claimed that the remains of up to 135 children may have been left during a landfill liquidation project. The developer, Morris Industrial Builders, agreed in 2005 to settle the Spitzer affair by erecting a monument near the site of the former cemetery and donating any $ 100,000 settlement left after the monument was erected to a nonprofit.

At the time, Morris Industrial’s attorney said there was “no recognition of ‘inappropriate conduct or misconduct’ and claimed that all the bodies in the cemetery had been reburied,” according to a 2005 Associated Press article.

Earlier, the Stew Leonard network’s image became a hit in 1993, when Stu Leonard Sr. pleaded guilty to federal charges of a $ 17.1 million tax fraud scheme that involved pouring money from a store into his private coffers. Senior Leonard was sentenced to more than four years in prison in the case, which also found two of his wife’s brothers guilty, both of whom were top store executives at the time.

Court records in a case filed by the federal prosecutor’s office show that Leonard Jr. was granted immunity as part of his father’s and uncle’s plea deal, and that Leonard Jr. allegedly conspired to misappropriate money, leading to tax charges. .

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