(New York-WABC, June 6, 2002) – A report from the ABC7 Eyewitness News Investigators has led to quick action. Last night, we reported the claims by some former employees of blatant racial discrimination at the headquarters of a major supermarket cooperative…. The action comes on the heels of a new New York City investigation and a threatened community boycott of Key Food. The Investigators’ Jim Hoffer broke the story Wednesday, and now brings us the latest.
Key Food released its first statement in response to our investigation late Thursday evening, which appeared to confirm what we reported Wednesday about a supervisor at the company headquarters. In the statement, Key Food says, “Mr. Grenard may, in fact, have made inappropriate comments. As result, his services have terminated…”
At the heart of this case, are audio tapes which captured explosive racists remarks that we, once again, warn you could be offensive.
Key Food, with its 120 stores, grossed nearly $400 million last year, and much of it came from minority shoppers. That’s why the allegations of racism made by some former black workers at the retailer’s corporate office are so disturbing.
Nancy Mena, Former Key Food Employee: “I actually started to realize that there was a problem when I was moved from the office in which we all worked in, and moved into an area called South Central. Everyone that worked in that particular area was African American.”
Nancy Mena and two other former workers have filed suit against Key Food. And soon a powerful black community group may be joining their battle against the supermarket cooperative.
Woody Henderson, National Action Network: “We’re not going to accept this. We’re not going to stay on the side, like this will not go away, because it will never go away if we don’t take to the streets. If we have to, we could shut Key Foods down.
Jim Hoffer, Eyewitness News: “How so.” Henderson: “Demonstrations. We can stop people from coming in.”
Much of the community anger is focused toward Key Food supervisor Richard Grenard, who was caught on tape making racist remarks as he discusses potential applicants for a clerical position.
(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?”
(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!”
Bill Goodman, Center For Constitutional Rights: “It’s also shocking that this company had a corporate culture and environment in which someone would feel comfortable enough expressing himself in a way that this man has at least been purported to have expressed himself.”
And that’s what so concerns the National Action Network. It’s why they say even if Richard Grenard, goes the threat of boycott remains.
Henderson: “It’s not good enough, because he’s not the last man standing, I’ll guarantee you that. If this was accepted this long, if they knew about this going on, there are others in the executive department that knew this was going on also, and if they were putting up with it that means they condone it.”
But Key Food and Grenard have denied in court papers all allegations that they’ve discriminated in anyway. Still, some say words aren’t good enough, they expect action.
Cythina Davis, National Action Network: “They also need to apologize to the black community to allow this to go on so long before taking any action.”
It is important to note that the discrimination complaint is against Key Food headquarters, not the individual stores, which are independently owned and operated.
Key Food’s chief executive, in a statement faxed to us late Thursday afternoon, said, “The company has a long-standing policy which prohibits all forms of discrimination, and provides a procedure to facilitate complaints of discrimination by any employee.” The statement goes on to say, “All allegations of discrimination are treated seriously and are diligently investigated.”
In another major development in this case, the city’s civil rights commission has launched an investigation into the allegations.