Operations

Sweetgreen fostered a hostile and discriminatory work environment in New York stores, lawsuit alleges

In a complaint filed in New York Supreme Court, 10 plaintiffs described an atmosphere of racial slurs and sexually inappropriate comments, mostly coming from two managers.
Sweetgreen New York
Sweetgreen, which went public in 2021, reached just over 200 units in the second quarter. | Photo: Shutterstock.

A group of Sweetgreen employees in New York have charged the fast-casual chain of fostering a hostile and discriminatory work environment in a lawsuit on Thursday.

The 10 plaintiffs are all described as African-American or African-American/Hispanic, and all have worked at a handful of Sweetgreen units in New York City, where they say managers made decisions on hiring, firing, work schedules and assignments based on gender and race.

The complaint, which was filed in New York Supreme Court, also alleges sexual harassment, saying some of the plaintiffs were subject to sexually inappropriate comments on a regular basis.

The managers, who were described as Hispanic, also routinely made derogatory comments based on race about Black workers and customers, including using the N-word and other racial slurs.

Sweetgreen officials in a statement said they were unable to comment on pending legal matters, but they said, “At Sweetgreen, we are committed to diversity as well as a safe and inclusive workplace. We take these accusations very seriously and do not tolerate any form of harassment, discrimination, or unsafe working conditions.”

The lawsuit filed Thursday was actually an amended complaint that was first filed in March by workers Kiana Alvarado and Liana Arias, citing both Sweetgreen and manager Donald Izquierdo as defendants. In the amended complaint, eight more workers joined the lawsuit, and the charges were also expanded to include another manager as defendant, Edwin Ventura.

Hispanic workers were given promotions over more qualified Black workers, and more favorable shifts, the plaintiffs allege. Hispanic employees also were allowed leeway that was not afforded to Black workers, like leaving work early, for example, though they were paid for the entire shift.

One of the plaintiffs was a supervisor who was the only Black employee in the restaurant at the time, who said her authority was routinely undermined.

The workers said their complaints to higher management were ignored and, in one case the plaintiff was fired.

The lawsuit comes as Sweetgreen is reporting momentum on its path to profitability.

Second-quarter revenues were up 22% to $152.5 million, and the company’s net loss narrowed to $27.3 million from a loss of $40.5 million a year ago. Same-store sales were up 3%, including a 2% increase in traffic, the company reported in July. 

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