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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-02-22



Mariano's employee claims he was fired for being gay
by Gretchen Rachel Blickensderfer

This article shared 7885 times since Wed Sep 3, 2014
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At the end of January 2014, James Beck —a 44-year-old resident of Edgewater—was laid off from his job at Macy's. The very same day, he walked into a recruitment center for Mariano's Fresh Market. Beck said he was hired within four weeks. By the middle of April, he was the supervisor to eight Mariano's employees and the team lead for the smoothie bar at the Ravenswood store in the 1800 block of West Lawrence Avenue. Beck couldn't believe his luck.

Less than three months later, Beck had been fired. The store manager claimed it was for excessive absences. In August, in filings with both the City of Chicago Commission on Human Relations and the Illinois Department of Human Rights, Beck alleges it was because he was gay.

Mariano's parent company is Roundy's Supermarkets Inc. based in Milwaukee. In December of 2013, they bought 11 former Dominick's locations after Safeway announced closures of the stores across Chicago. The Ravenswood Mariano's opened in early April.

Beck told Windy City Times that his problems began two weeks after the store opened when a colleague—named in the complaint as the "Team Lead ( Vero Coffee ) Brian Morgan"—began to make "flirtatious comments to me."

"He baited me," Beck said. "Even though he said he was straight, he would touch me on the arm or the shoulder and would say things like 'you know more about my body than girlfriends I've had.'" Beck further alleges that Morgan took him up to what Morgan termed the "secret garden" on the roof of the store telling Beck, "I wanted to show this to you so we would have somewhere to sneak off and be alone together."

On another occasion, Beck claims Morgan called him on the phone and—during that conversation—said that he "wanted the lines of communication, both professional and personal, to be wide open between us."

"It was the tone in which he said it," Beck maintained. "It was in an intimate, not a professional, way."

One of Beck's co-workers—who asked not to be identified—claimed that she witnessed Morgan's actions towards Beck over a period of two or three months. "I saw them interact a lot," she said. "And [Morgan] made it seem like he was interested in Jim. He was just being real flirtatious with him. I thought it was inappropriate."

Although Beck informed his therapist of how uncomfortable Morgan was making him, he did not approach store management with a complaint. "I genuinely liked Brian," he said. "I didn't want to get him in trouble."

Beck said that Morgan joined him and other colleagues on two separate occasions at Scot's, a gay bar on the North Side of Chicago. After one such visit on June 7, Beck hailed a cab and Morgan jumped in next to him—much to Beck's surprise. "We didn't say anything during the ride," Beck said. "It was late and the cab took me to my car. Brian took the cab to his home."

On returning to work two days later, Beck said he learned Morgan had been furious about insinuations that he and Beck were a couple and had told the store's director Mike Binder that he believed Beck had started the rumor.

On June 10, Beck was transferred to the produce department. Beck informed store management that back problems plus a sinus condition would prevent him from performing duties including heavy lifting and extended periods of time in the store's cooler. "Mike made it clear that this [transfer] was permanent," Beck said. "I was told that that if I wanted to keep my job, I had to go to produce."

After four days on the job, Beck's sinus condition flared up and he called in sick for one day. On June 23, he was terminated. The form handed to him read "you have had six absences since you were hired and that is unacceptable."

Beck provided proof to Windy City Times via his pay stubs that he accrued no more than three absences throughout the entire term of his employment with Mariano's. He added that store management would not listen to him. "I was extremely upset," Beck said. "I couldn't eat or sleep."

The Illinois Department of Employment Security deemed him eligible for benefits saying "the evidence shows that the claimant's actions resulting on this discharge was not deliberate or willful."

Beck acknowledged that he knew other gay workers at Mariano's who were not subjected to the same treatment. "Because no one made accusations that [the other gay employees] were spreading rumors," he said, "nobody came to me and asked me for my side of the story. They took [Morgan's] word for it because he's 'straight' and they just transferred me against my will and then fired me."

He added that he is seeking compensation from Mariano's for loss of wages and the pain and suffering of losing his job. The Illinois Department of Human Rights filing claims discrimination based on "sex" and as "retaliation." The City of Chicago Commission on Human Relations filing claims discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Roundy's Supermarkets, Inc., refused comment on the matter, saying that it is currently performing its own internal investigation.

This article shared 7885 times since Wed Sep 3, 2014
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