nstead of preparing food for students at Platte City Middle School, a 64-year-old employee of OPAA Food Management claims she was ordered to cook food for her co-worker’s catering job using the school’s resources.
It is one of many questionable acts outlined in a 28-page employee discrimination lawsuit filed on Nov. 19 against OPAA Food Management.
Carolyn Mejia of Kansas City, represented by attorneys Kevin Baldwin, Eric Vernon and Sylvia Hernandez of Baldwin & Vernon, alleges she experienced discrimination due to age and retaliation for exercising her rights.
The first alleged mishap occurred right after Carolyn Mejia was hired on April 16, 2018 to cook breakfast for the school, located at 900 Pirate Drive in Platte City.
While on the clock, the cooking staff was sharing how much they were looking forward to payday. When Mejia inquired about her first paycheck, her supervisor, Amy Portenier, showed Mejia the pay period spreadsheet, which indicated she would be paid at the end of the week, suit says.
But come payday, the suit says, Mejia’s check had not been direct deposited into her bank account as indicated on the ADP Workforce Login. Mejia told human resource personnel to which they allegedly accused her of incorrectly inputting her checking information.
When Mejia reminded human resources, she hadn’t entered any checking information but had provided them a void check to initiate the direct deposit, human resource personnel warned her about having an attitude, the case says.
Instead of receiving a check for that pay period, Mejia was issued a debit card with the amount she earned that “did not work the way” human resources claimed it would, states court documents.
Another problem outlined in the lawsuit involves Mejia’s health insurance. Prior to accepting the position, the suit says, Mejia was told she would be eligible to receive health insurance after one month on the job. After satisfying this probationary period, Mejia spoke with human resources and was told “she didn’t think it was right and was would ask someone about it.”
Eventually, she was given a piece of paper with someone’s contact information and instructed to call this person about health insurance, the suit says. Months went by with no return phone call about health insurance, states court documents.
It wasn’t until Mejia voiced a concern for her stomach on Sept. 10th before human resource personnel told her they “found out she could sign-up in November during open enrollment, but that it wasn’t good enough health insurance to get a colonoscopy.”
PREPARING ROASTS FOR CATERING JOB
Usually Mejia worked from 6 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. feeding breakfast to students and helping co-workers with various tasks, especially “jobs they didn’t want to do, such as taking out the trash,” states court documents. Mejia would grin and bear it to prevent unpleasant consequences, including the time her co-worker, identified in court documents as Amy P., told her about an outside catering job and “that there were 4 roasts for her to cook,” the case says.
After retrieving the recipe for the rub to place on the roast, Mejia allegedly prepared the pans and covered the roast with tin foil. Another employee “ripped the tinfoil off the pan and said that it needed parchment paper between the roast and the tinfoil,” states court documents.
Mejia allegedly did as she was told and lifted the two large pans each containing two roasts into the top oven at the school. The same employee that reprimanded her earlier about the parchment paper, “opened the door to a bottom oven, grabbed the pan, and shoved both pans into the bottom of the oven, not on a rack, but the bottom floor of the oven,” states court documents.
She then told Mejia “you needed to get them in at 6 in the morning. Now you are leaving, and I will have to watch them.”
As the lawsuit makes clear, Mejia did as she was told to keep her job. Mejia, the suit points out, was “hired to cook for the school and not the catering company.”
Towards the end of her shift, Mejia allegedly complained to Amy Portenier about the events of day.
The suit also describes multiple accounts of employees’ running afoul, including turning up the temperature of the oven to burn Mejia’s cinnamon rolls and excluding her from team building exercises, like spirit day.
According to the lawsuit, when Mejia told human resource personnel about these annoyances in the workplace, they “stood in front of” Mejia and repeatedly said “what does Jean do?” Mejia, who was clearly intimidated, responded, “let me get my thoughts together.”
When human resources made the claim, “there’s that attitude again,” Mejia said, “I have had enough,” and attempted to leave the room. Human resources urged her to sign a termination slip, but Mejia rightfully declined.
According to the lawsuit, while Mejia attempted to gather her things, a human resource agent, identified in court documents as Megan, followed her so closely that she could “feel her breath,” causing Mejia to feel threatened. Mejia made multiple requests for her to step back, each one more poignant than the one before.
As the lawsuit tells it, Megan yelled, “did you hear her threaten me and I’m pregnant.”
The human resource agent continued to escalate the situation by blocking Mejia as she attempted to collect her belongings, the suit says. HR allegedly shouted, “she pushed me, did you see her push me, and I am pregnant, you’re going to hear from my lawyer!”
The lawsuit says Mejia never pushed the human resource agent. The lawsuit claims Mejia experienced adverse employment actions due to her age. “Everyone was younger than her, and they always treated her as if she was stupid because of her age,” states court documents.
The suit also contends OPAA Food Management employees retaliated against Mejia in the days and weeks after she complained of acts, her lawyers’ say, are in violation the Missouri Human Rights Act. The case claims employees retaliated against her “treating her differently, subjecting her to a hostile work environment, subjecting her to a heightened level of scrutiny, setting her up to fail, and/or constructively terminating her from her employment.”
Mejia is seeking compensation for damages, including emotional pain and suffering.