Panera Bread Sued by Ugandan Former Employee over Wages Discrimination and Sacking
BOSTON/South Boston - Outeke Kakooza has filed a lawsuit after his sacking from his job at Panera Bread alleging that he was wrongfully terminated, was the target of racial and disability discrimination, and wasn’t paid in full.
Employed as a night baker with the company for over five years, Kakooza came to the US from Uganda as a refugee with the assistance of the International Rescue Committee.
Since losing his job of two years at the Panera Bread Café at 1288 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, Kakooza – who suffers from medical conditions related to HIV and cancerous tumors on his legs and arms – was also made homeless.
The amended complaint was filed at the US District Court in Boston on July 18, 2013, and follows a complaint lodged with the Fair Labor Division at the Attorney General’s Office in December 2012, and a complaint given to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination in May 2013.
The complaint alleges, “Panera unlawfully discriminated against Mr. Kakooza on account of his disability by failing to notify him of his right to reasonable accommodation on account of his known disability, and by terminating his employment on account of his disability …”
It further alleges, “Panera consistently failed to pay Mr. Kakooza for all hours that he actually worked, consistently failed to pay him at an overtime rate for those hours worked in excess of eight per day and 40 per week, and failed to grant compensated sick time and leave of vacation time due to Mr. Kakooza pursuant to his contract of employment.”
The complaint claims that Kakooza suffers from constant pain and swelling, making it “often difficult for him to stand continuously and for long periods,” and that he is considered disabled under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
He also suffers from, “intermittent nausea, fatigue, and pain,” which occasionally meant that he would, “leave work early or call out of his scheduled shift,” according to the complaint.
During his time at the café, he claims to have worked around 47.5 hours per week during five overnight shifts from 9pm to 630am, but that he never received overtime pay for hours in excess of 40 per week.
The complaint alleges that Kakooza’s hours were not properly recorded and that managers made “adjustments” to his hours that did not reflect the true number of hours worked.
It alleges that he worked, “far more than the time for which he was paid,” and that “the records show that Mr. Kakooza was underpaid or not paid at all for time actually recorded on the clock.”
The complaint further alleges that, “Panera disproportionately assigns members of racial minorities and/or employees of foreign national origin to night shifts on which they work alone,” whereas other Panera Bread outlets employs two night bakers.
In an on-the-job injury, Kakooza landed in hospital on December 13, 2013, which led him into a compensation claim with the company.
Following this, the complaint alleges his, “shifts were reduced, for the first time ever, from five nights to two nights per week.”
On December 31, 2013, he was given two written warnings, which claimed to document several unreported absences during that month; the first warnings he received during his entire time at the company, according to the complaint.
On January 4, 2013, through his attorney, he informed Panera of the wage complaint with the Attorney General the previous month.
According to the complaint, his shifts were increased from two to four days thereafter, though it is claimed that he was asked to begin his shift at the later time of 10pm with no reduction in workload.
It is alleged that the later start time was, “an intentional ‘speed-up’ intended either to harass him into leaving his job or, by making it impossible for him to complete his bake, set him up for disciplinary action.”
On around February 7, 2013, he was given two written warnings alleging he failed to complete his bake and that he failed to follow proper dress code, as well as having three unauthorized absences.
His termination came on around February 25, 2013 with a final written warning alleging that he failed to complete assigned duties the previous week.
The complaint alleges that, “As a result of his wrongful termination Mr. Kakooza has suffered intense emotional distress. He is ill, without a source of income, and has been made homeless. He has suffered from depression, anxiety, insomnia, and panic attacks.”
An answer filed by the defendant denies each of the significant allegations in Kakooza’s complaint. The case will be heard by Judge George O’Toole.
This article was produced for Open Media Boston's Open Court Project.