A federal lawsuit alleges an Ultra Foods grocery store in Merrillville refused to hire women for night shift stocking jobs.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit last week in U.S District Court in Hammond accusing Ultra Foods and parent company SVT LLC of favoring male candidates for night stocker positions and rejecting qualified female candidates who applied for the job.
Strack and Van Til, which operates the Ultra Foods stores, tries to offer equal opportunities to everyone, said Rex Mudge, vice president of human resources.
"Obviously, Ultra Foods and Strack and Van Til are an equal employment opportunity employer," Mudge said. "We're very proud of our efforts. We disagree with the EEOC on this, and will go through the next steps."
In 2010, a woman applied for a night stocker job at the Merrillville grocery store, wasn't hired and filed a complaint with the federal agency, according to the lawsuit. The EEOC found, since 2010, the grocery store disproportionately hired more men than women to fill available night stocking positions, it didn't hire qualified female applicants and it instead hired less qualified male job-seekers in some cases.
Allegations in a lawsuit can be rebutted in court.
The EEOC tried to reach a pre-litigation settlement before filing the lawsuit, according to a news release. The agency's lawyers said the grocery store's actions were intentional and demonstrated a reckless indifference to the federal protected rights of women who applied for the stocking jobs.
Federal attorneys are asking the court for back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and a permanent injunction to prevent the company from engaging in sex discrimination in hiring.
"Ordinarily, an applicant’s sex should play no lawful role in an employer's hiring decisions, and an employer who disregards federal protections designed to level the playing field for all applicants does so at its own peril,” said Laurie A. Young, regional attorney for the EEOC’s district office in Indianapolis.