The Bashas' grocery chain discriminates against Hispanic employees and is refusing to cooperate in a federal investigation of the company, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charges in documents filed this week in U.S. District Court in Phoenix.
According to the documents, the EEOC issued a "commissioner's charge" in May 2007 that the Chandler-based company failed to pay Hispanic employees comparable wages to others and failed to promote Hispanics to management positions in violation of the Civil rights Act of 1964.
The federal agency has been attempting to investigate the charges since May 2007, but the company has failed to respond adequately to subpoenas and requests for information, the EEOC alleges. The agency said the information is relevant to determining if the charges are accurate.
A Bashas' spokeswoman denied both the charge of discrimination and failure to respond to the EEOC.
"We are a responsible company, we take care of our people, we take legal requests very seriously, we respond in good faith, and that's what we did in this instance," said Kristy Nied, Bashas' director of communications.
She said the company is attempting to determine who is behind the charges, saying "it's a strong hunch" that it is the United Food and Commercial Workers union.
The UFCW and Bashas' are involved in a bruising battle over representation of the company's workers. Most Bashas' employees are nonunion.
The union has accused the company of violating employee rights to join a union while the company has filed a defamation suit against the UFCW.
EEOC Regional Attorney Mary Jo O'Neill denied any link between the case and the union.
"That would not be true," she said.
In the memo filed with the court, the EEOC said Bashas' provided some information in December 2007, but the company was "not fully responsive."
When the agency requested more information, the company raised objections and requested the EEOC sign a confidentiality agreement before it would produce further information, the memo said.
The EEOC said that agreement was unnecessary because of strict confidentiality protections imposed by law on the EEOC.
The commission issued a subpoena requesting basic information on company employees in May 2008. The company objected in June, saying the information requested was not relevant, the request was overbroad, and again raising concerns about the confidentiality of the information, the memo said.
The EEOC is requesting that the court order the company to cooperate and respond to the subpoena.
A hearing has been set on May 18 before Judge James Teilborg.