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Former Employees Say Audio Tapes Show Extent of Racism At Large Supermarket Cooperative

New York-WABC, June 5, 2002) - Former employees of a large supermarket cooperative say they faced rampant racial discrimination on the job, and they have a disturbing tape to back up their claims. Several former workers at Key Food say they were victims, and three of the workers have filed a $15 million lawsuit claiming that vile racial slurs forced her to resign. In an unusual twist, they have proof in the form of an audio tape. The Investigators' Jim Hoffer has the story.

Key Food is one of the biggest grocery store cooperatives in New York City, providing 120 independently owned stores with the same buying power of many major chains. Most of Key Food stores are in minority neighborhoods, yet some former employees say the main office is an abusive and hostile place for minorities to work. Their lawsuit claims ethnic slurs and offensive racial remarks occurred almost daily. Key Food denies it, but the workers say they have the evidence on tape.

We'd like to offer a warning: Some of what you're about to read may be offensive.

Nancy Mena, Former Key Food Employee: "Aunt Jemima, black woman, buckwheat."

For two years, Nancy Mena says she suffered the emotional sting of racial slurs as a clerical worker at Key Food headquarters

Mena: "It was something that everyone was aware of. But if this is something being done out in the open who could you turn to."

Mena and two others have filed a $15 million discrimination lawsuit. It claims Key Food created "an intimidating, hostile and offensive working environment" for minority and women employees.

Mena: "At one time I had asked Richie a question in reference to the work. He said to me, 'You black women are so demanding.'"

Richie, is Richard Grenard, Key Food's head produce buyer and a defendant in the lawsuit.

Jim Hoffer, Eyewitness News: "Wouldn't you want to take this opportunity to tell your side. There's a lot of serious allegations in this lawsuit."
Richard Grenard, Key Food: "That I understand."
Hoffer: "We've spoken to several workers that say you've used racial slurs almost daily." Grenard: "That they have to prove."
Hoffer: "Well, do you use racial slurs?"
Grenard: "Absolutely not."

But a former coworker of Grenard's, who is suing Grenard for sexual harassment, wore a micro cassette recorder and secretly taped several conversations she had with him. On the recordings, the two can be heard talking about potential candidates for a clerical position. The tapes seem to show that as the coworker is trying to explain an applicant's qualifications, Richard Grenard seems more interested in their color.

(From taped conversation)
Coworker: "She uses a system similar to AS400. They have in Jamaica the Datatek system." Grenard: "Is she a f****g n****r?"
Coworker: "Yes, she's of African American Decent."
Grenard: "No, she's a f****g n****r."
Coworker: "Okay, well she's of African..."
Grenard: "Does she have dredlocks?"
Coworker: "No she doesn't have dredlocks."
Grenard: "Does she smell?"

In a taped phone conversation with the coworker, Grenard makes it clear that if an applicant's name has even a hint of color, they'd be out of the running.

(From second taped conversation)
Coworker: "I have this girl Shondel North, also Batahami Mohammad."
Grenard: "Oh come on. I'm not a prejudice person, but at least give me something I can relate to with a name. What happened to Mary, John, Frank, Tom?"
Coworker: Okay, how about Maureen McDermott."
Grenard: "There you go. Hire her!"

Shondelle Northe, Plaintiff: "I never thought before that I'd be discriminated against based on my name. I thought of, maybe race discrimination, my color, but this is racism just taken to a whole new level."

Despite her numerous qualifications, Shondelle Northe believes she was never even considered for the job, simply because of her name. She's not only suing, but has decided never to shop at Key Food again.

Northe: "If I continued shopping there, I'd be putting money into the hands of a company, an organization that really did not respect myself and didn't respect my people."

Both Key Food and Richard Grenard refused an interview for this story, but court records show they deny all allegations that they discriminate in any way. Grenard still holds his supervisory position as the head produce buyer for 120 stores. Former workers we talked to say that's proof enough that Key Food ignores the prejudice behind its office doors while profiting from minority shoppers.

Former Worker: "There were certain remarks that were passed that, 'We are boat people and we should go back where we from.' I quit. I couldn't take it no more, so I left."

Marc Rappaport, Plaintiff Attorney: "No company should be treating its employers like this one does. They use the vilest language. It appears that just about anything goes. And quite frankly we have them on tape doing it."

We called Grenard's attorney for comment, but he said he would not talk about the case while it is in court. We also made repeated attempts to give both Key Food and its attorney the chance to respond to our investigation, neither returned our phone calls.

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