Petaluma-based Amy’s Kitchen hit with lawsuit over its Oregon plant

Petaluma-based vegetarian food maker Amy’s Kitchen is being sued by former employees who allege unsafe working conditions and discrimination against non-Latino employees.|

Petaluma-based Amy’s Kitchen, a leader in organic and vegetarian prepared foods, is being sued by four former employees who claim the company systematically put workers at risk through overwork and unsafe conditions and also discriminated against non-Latino employees.

The lawsuit, filed last week in Oregon state court, centers on operations at the company’s Medford area processing and manufacturing plant. It claims Amy’s hires and promotes predominately Mexican-American workers due to their reputation as “hard workers,” then drives employees hard, forcing them to work without breaks, or skip them, and also to work without adequate safety protocols.

A spokesman for Amy’s said Monday the charges were without merit and declined further comment.

“Because the litigation is pending, Amy’s is unable to comment further,” said Lauren Clancy, Amy’s manager of media relations.

The lawsuit claims one plaintiff injured his leg unloading a 200-pound bucket of beans, and later aggravated it pulling a 2,500 pound pallet. When he filed a workers compensation claim, he was fired, according to the legal filing.

The employee also stated he was retaliated against because he could not understand orders or instructions given in Spanish by his supervisor.

Another employee, the former head of safety, said he was terminated after he tried to get the company to change their “dangerous ways.“ And two former Human Resources employees allegedly were let go after they questioned the widespread practice of firing injured employees.

The plaintiffs are seeking almost $1.4 million in general damages and unspecified punitive damages.

The lawsuit runs counter to the image conjured up by a vegan, organic food company that stresses natural, healthy foods and social consciousness - at least when it comes to nutrition.

“You imagine they would care deeply about employees and would put them first above profits and operations of its business,” said Micah Fargey, the Portland-based attorney who filed the lawsuit.

He said the growing company may be a victim of its own success, trying to keep up with demand for its products. The machines are run too hard and too fast, drastically increasing the risk of injury to employees, according to the lawsuit.

“They’re pushing and pushing and pushing without making sure employees are treated properly and their legal rights are fully protected.” Fargey said Monday.

When it comes to responsibility for the working conditions and alleged abuses, Fargey said, “We believe it’s coming from the top down. Pressures of business are causing rules and laws to be overlooked.”

The food manufacturer employs more than 1,800 people in its Amy’s Kitchen manufacturing operations in Santa Rosa, Oregon and Idaho and another 90 workers at its Rohnert Park drive-thru.

Total revenues for the company in 2015 approached $480 million. Amy’s Kitchen ranked fifth among all U.S. makers of frozen food single entrées, with nearly $257 million in sales, according to Chicago-based market research company IRI.

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