Customers push carts outside a Stew Leonard’s supermarket in Paramus, New Jersey, U.S., Tuesday, May 12, 2020. Stew Leonard Jr. said the meatpacking plant the company uses operating at about 70% capacity, and he expects it to be back to full capacity in about a month, CT Post reported.
Angus Mordan | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A new federal lawsuit accuses the chief executive of the New York metro-area grocery chain Stew Leonard’s of making racist and sexist comments about workers and customers.
Former longtime employee Robert Crosby Jr. also claims in his civil complaint that he was fired from his job in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act after his battle with Covid-19 left him disabled. .
Crosby, a 58-year-old father of four, accuses Stew Leonard and CEO Stew Leonard Jr. of creating a hostile work environment. The suit cites “systemic racial, gender, religious and ageist discriminatory practices” carried out by management.
Crosby is seeking at least $500,000 in damages in the lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
The lawsuit’s claims contrast with the farmhouse image of the grocery chain, which was once praised by President Ronald Reagan and business guru Tom Peters. The first Stew Leonard’s opened in 1969 as a small dairy in Norwalk, Connecticut. The store, which included a small petting zoo, farm-themed food displays, and animatronic singing animals, grew explosively in size, popularity, and publicity over the following decades.
The family business now has nearly $400 million in annual revenue across seven locations in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey.
Leonard Jr. declined to comment on Crosby’s lawsuit allegations.
“Robert Crosby, Jr. worked for Stew Leonard for almost 20 years, but unfortunately we had to part ways,” Leonard Jr. said in a statement provided to CNBC on Tuesday. “We understand he has filed a lawsuit and will review it with our attorneys, but we are not commenting on ongoing litigation.”
Crosby, a former loss prevention manager, “verbally objected” to alleged insults and practices during his employment, according to the suit.
The lawsuit also alleges that Leonard Jr. joked about the discovery several years ago of human remains and headstones from an abandoned Orthodox Jewish cemetery located on and near the grounds of a Yonkers, New York, store. The lawsuit says the workers were ordered to bury the headstones so ‘no one could find them’ by the store president – Leonard Jr.’s cousin – who then told them to dump the human remains in a dumpster.
Crosby’s lawsuit alleges that since he began working at the Yonkers site in 2001, he and his coworkers have been “subjected to a hostile and toxic work environment.”
The lawsuit alleges Leonard Jr. repeatedly referred to the women as “b—–s,” called two white Jewish employees his “resident Jews,” repeatedly called black employees “thugs” and the word N, and made comments. on the body parts of black employees. Crosby’s lawsuit also says he saw Leonard Jr. repeatedly say that Jews were the “worst customers to deal with.”
The suit also describes a company Christmas party in the early 2000s where Leonard Jr. “insisted that senior management wear sexually suggestive and inappropriate clothing, including fake breasts, lingerie, sex toys and features a sexually suggestive and offensive skit”.
Crosby claims he repeatedly complained about Leonard Jr.’s alleged practices to the company’s human resources manager. He says in the suit that she told him “Stew is just Stew” and that “he doesn’t have a filter”.
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, the lack of social distancing and the ban for workers to wear protective masks on site. Those complaints fell on deaf ears, the lawsuit says.
Crosby’s lawsuit says he contracted Covid in April 2020, after 50 colleagues tested positive the previous month. He says he developed symptoms that “were extreme and life-threatening” and included “loss of smell and taste, nausea, brain fog, Epstein Barr syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome” and memory loss. It required hospitalization, the suit adds.
Stew Leonard Jr.
Adam Jeffrey | CNBC
The lawsuit says he developed “Long Haul Covid” and was forced to return to work after being reluctantly granted sick leave. (Long Covid patients show symptoms for months after being infected.) During a subsequent six-day hospitalization in September 2020 for complications from Covid, Crosby was ordered by the vice president of the Yonkers store to “work from his hospital bed”.
Crosby says he was fired later that month after Stew Leonard refused to give him a short leave so he could recover from Covid, according to his lawsuit.
Crosby filed the lawsuit after receiving a notice of probable cause issued by the New York State Division of Human Rights in response to a discrimination charge he filed against Stew Leonard’s in 2021.
The notice says the division has determined that there is probable cause to believe that Stew Leonard’s and Leonard Jr. engaged in unlawful discriminatory practices. He also indicated that Crosby alleged that Leonard would “use the ‘N’ word freely multiple times.” In March, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued Crosby a notice of right to sue Stew Leonard’s after he filed an EEOC complaint against his former employer.
Crosby also describes in his lawsuit the discovery of headstones from May 2004 to 2009 on the leased land occupied by Stew Leonard’s in Yonkers.
Crosby alleges that a company executive ordered him and his coworkers to bury the headstones “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 while investigating a fire. They were told to “get some burlap coffee sacks and throw the bones in the dumpster,” the suit reads.
“Defendant Leonard Jr. jokingly referred to the discovery of human remains and headstones, which were determined to be the remains of an Orthodox Jewish cemetery, as ‘The Yonkers Holocaust,'” the suit alleges.
Crosby’s lawsuit alleges he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and other ailments after his bosses threatened to fire him if he told others about the bones.
Crosby’s allegations could shed new light on a story that broke in 2004, when the New York Attorney General’s office alleged that a New Jersey developer may have failed to comply with a court order to 1989 to organize the removal of all remains from the cemetery. when they developed the Yonkers site which came to house Stew Leonard’s and two other stores, Costco and Home Depot. The remains were believed to have been reinterred in Israel, according to media reports at the time.
Two headstones were found discarded near Stew Leonard in 2004 following the allegations, according to published reports.
Then-New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer claimed the remains of up to 135 children could have been left behind during the exhumation project. The developer, Morris Industrial Builders, agreed in 2005 to settle the case with Spitzer by erecting a monument near the site of the old cemetery and donating one of the $100,000 settlement remaining after the monument was erected to a non-profit organization.
At the time, a lawyer for Morris Industrial said “there was no admission of ‘inappropriate behavior or improper conduct’ and argued that all bodies in the cemetery had been reinterred”, according to a 2005 article. from the Associated Press on the case.
The Stew Leonard chain’s image already took a hit in 1993, when Stew Leonard Sr. pleaded guilty to federal charges in a $17.1 million tax evasion scheme that involved siphoning off cash receipts from the store in his private coffers. The eldest Leonard was sentenced to more than four years in prison in the case, which also saw guilty pleas from his wife’s two brothers, who were both top executives at the store at the time.
Court records from the case filed by federal prosecutors show Leonard Jr. received immunity as part of the deal his father and uncles made to plead guilty, and that Leonard Jr. allegedly participated in a conspiracy skimming which led to tax charges.