Denied promotions for 30 years, stock clerk awaits million dollar bias award

John O�Quinn

( – When John O’Quinn, a former nighttime grocery stocker for Raley’s supermarket, submitted a request for a promotion to day clerk or manager, he never thought it would take a court battle, a racial discrimination lawsuit, and 30 years to get the job. It did.

A federal jury in Sacramento, Calif., ordered the corporation to pay Mr. O’Quinn a combined award of more than $1 million for its constant denial of the promotion based on his race. A general damage award of $455,500 was handed down in August and a punitive damage award of $950,000 was handed down this fall.


Mr. O’Quinn started working at Raley’s in Oroville, Calif., as a box boy, then shifted to a clerk, who was responsible for stocking store shelves. He was placed on a night shift, managing a 15-member crew that worked mainly when the store was closed.

According to Mr. O’Quinn, he worked hard and trained young, White, less experienced employees, year after year. He knew he wasn’t getting ahead, but faithfully worked, believing his honest efforts would earn a promotion.

Raley�s supermarket in Oroville, Calif. Photos: Charlene Muhammad

“They told me in 1976 that I was going to be the first ‘Black manager of the chain.’ When 1985 rolled in and I’d done all of this work on nights, I was told that they would not promote me because they didn’t know what I would do if some irate customer would come in the store and call me a n—-r. They said that straight up,” Mr. O’Quinn said.

Passed over at least 10 times, Mr. O’Quinn didn’t get angry or cry, but drew strength from his parents, with daily visits on the way home from work. He told his father how Whites he trained were promoted and he remained relegated to the night shift.

By 1999, his manager had not made good on a promise to promote, using the same racial slur excuse, and three to four managers after that failed to promote him as well, Mr. O’Quinn told The Final Call.

“It really upset me to see him being treated the way that he was treated. When it first started, I was a civil rights officer for the U.S. Department of Forestry, and I knew that he was being handled unfairly, however, he kept saying he knew they were going to do right,” recalled Sandra Davis, his oldest sister. Finally, she told her brother that if he didn’t take action, the promotion would never come.

Mr. O’Quinn filed claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and his union in 2000, more than 28 years after joining the company. He filed a discrimination lawsuit in 2002, but U.S. District Judge Morrison C. England, who is Black, dismissed it. Judge England ruled it was appropriate for Mr. O’Quinn’s manager to use the racial epithet to test him as an employee. An appeals court reinstated the case three-years-later. In 2007, a federal jury handed down the awards to punish Raley’s for its discriminatory actions, which the company still denies.

Mr. O’Quinn has since been promoted to a day crew head clerk and to customer service manager, the store’s third-ranking position. According to his attorney, Larry Baumbach, one of the overall legal lessons learned is that even large corporations can have policies that exclude Blacks from their management and higher management. These deeply-hidden policies do not come out until someone exposes them in a court room, he said.

“This is worse than some cracker who just has racial hatred. This is corporate racism that’s calculated,” said Atty. Baumbach. “Their policies are lock solid anti-Black. They don’t like Blacks in produce, their meat markets or out front in management. What they have done is placed what they assume the public attitude is and made it a corporate policy. It’s like the old south, the way people want it, they should get it. But if it’s illegal they should not be able to get it.”

Amy Johnston, a Raley’s spokesperson, told The Final Call the store has not issued an official statement on the case. Ms. Johnston said she would ask the company’s legal counsel for advice on granting The Final Call an interview. She had not responded by press time.

Mr. Baumbach characterized the area near Sacramento as a middle of the road and conservative, but the store’s behavior shocked him. “I told John that I think if I were Black, I’d be in prison. The lesson I’ve learned is that over the years, people of color have learned not to get angry about anything because if they did they’d be angry all the time,” he said.

The six-year battle is still not quite over. Atty. Baumbach believes Raley’s will file an appeal, because it is afraid the verdict will set a precedent and bring more lawsuits. It may take another two-to-three years to collect the monetary awards.