Safeway Opinion is a Reminder for Employers

Tenth Circuit affirms summary judgment grant on all claims against the grocery store chain, except one for failure to promote

An employer’s mixed outcome in federal appeals court is a detailed lesson for employers on defending against certain discrimination claims.

In a Nov. 24 opinion, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed grocery store chain Safeway’s summary judgment grant on all of the civil rights claims against it except one for promotion discrimination. The plaintiff was a minority warehouse worker who in almost 10 years was never interviewed nor promoted to a manager position, despite earning an MBA and improving warehouse efficiency during that time. The 10th Circuit held there was reason for a jury to disbelieve Safeway’s business explanations for not interviewing the plaintiff for the manager positions he sought.

The issues the appellate court raised in Sotunde v. Safeway lay out a road map on how employers can build a defense against promotion discrimination claims.

The case centers around a former supervisor at Safeway’s Denver distribution center who is a naturalized U.S. citizen from Nigeria. Abiodun Sotunde was hired in 2004 by Safeway distribution director Donald Grambusch, who promoted Sotunde to supervisor within months.

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the December 4, 2017 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.