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8 Laid-Off Executives Sue Ralphs Grocery

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Eight former executives are suing Ralphs Grocery Co., alleging the company kept them aboard to help it merge with another grocery chain, then abruptly fired them.

The former executives, five of whom live in Orange County, are seeking $15 million in compensatory damages for being laid off in May 1996, about 11 months after Ralphs merged with Food 4 Less Supermarkets, according to the lawsuit filed Dec. 20 in Los Angeles Superior Court.

The eight, who each worked 18 or more years at the region’s largest supermarket chain, accuse of the company of fraud, deceit, age and sex discrimination and wrongful termination, the lawsuit states.

Ralphs executives would not comment on the lawsuit.

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Ralphs laid off more than 1,000 workers and closed more than 50 stores after the $1.5-billion merger between the two companies in June 1995. Ralphs was purchased by Yucaipa Cos., which then merged its Food 4 Less and Ralphs chains and named the combined company Ralphs Grocery Co.

The lawsuit claims that the eight executives were assured for months both publicly and privately by top company officials that their jobs were secure in wake of the merger.

They allege in the lawsuit that those deliberately misleading assurances kept them working 60 to 70 hours, six or seven days a week for the 11-month period after the merger. The assurances also led many of the executives to reject offers from corporate “headhunters,” the lawsuit states.

When terminated in May 1996, the plaintiffs said, they were told their positions were being eliminated. They now contend that the supermarket chain has hired younger, less experienced workers in their former jobs.

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Further, the plaintiffs, who are all men, ages 45 to 64, allege sex discrimination since all the workers who replaced them are younger women.

According to the lawsuit, one top Ralphs executive told one of the plaintiffs that he was “too old for [his] job” and other top executives made other statements to the effect that “we have to keep our young bucks happy.”


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