Fired employee sues food additive company for racial discrimination

Jon Campisi Jan. 10, 2012, 3:02pm

A former employee for a food additive company who alleges his firing last fall was related to his complaints of racial discrimination has filed a federal job discrimination lawsuit against the Philadelphia-based company.

Through his complaint, Philadelphia resident Christopher Peters alleges that his former employer, Henry H. Ottens Mfg. Co., Inc., often discriminated against black employees such as himself, and that the company retaliated against those who complained of the mistreatment, namely by firing them.

The lawsuit, which was filed at the federal court in Philadelphia Jan. 6 by Bensalem, Pa. employment attorney Ari R. Karpf, claims that Peters’ termination occurred on Oct. 7, 2011, less than a month after Peters injured his back during a work-related incident.

Peters, who had worked for Ottens Flavors as a compounder for five years, claims through his lawsuit that he had to file for workers' compensation and obtain medical treatment after he became injured at work on Sept. 15, 2011.

Following initial treatment, Peters was able to continue working in a light-duty capacity, the lawsuit states, but he was nevertheless let go from his job in early October of last year, allegedly for lateness.

The lawsuit claims that despite the company’s claim that tardiness was the reason for Peters’ termination, he was actually fired for complaining about racial mistreatment, something that the company was known to engage in for quite some time.

“Defendant Ottens … allowed black employees to be treated disparately with respect to hiring, promotions, hours being distributed, shift placement and other terms and conditions of employment – practices that negatively impacted Plaintiff directly as well,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit claims that during the course of his five-year employment, Peters was subjected to racial jokes, racist language and derogatory treatment because of his race.

One of the co-defendants in the lawsuit, former plant manager Chuck Jones, often made racial jokes and offensive comments in Peters’ presence, the lawsuit alleges.

The other co-defendant named in the civil action, human resources director Robin Nejad, “permitted and condoned a racially abusive workplace wherein coworkers of Plaintiff were not disciplined for blatant racial mistreatment of black employees through acts of vandalism, racial comments and other discriminatory gestures,” the lawsuit states.

The complaint states that Peters complained to management about the racial discrimination in early September, just before he sustained his work-related injury.

The lawsuit contains claims of discriminatory termination, retaliation, hostile work environment and common law wrongful termination.

For each of the three causes of action in the lawsuit, Peters seeks front and back pay, unspecified punitive damages, litigation costs, and other equitable and legal relief.

The lawsuit also seeks to have the defendant prohibited from continuing its illegal policies and customs of discriminating against employees based on their race.

A jury trial has been demanded.

The federal case number is 2:12-cv-00055-RB.

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