Kraft Heinz Sued for Wrongful Termination and Violation of the Food Safety Modernization Act

On Thursday, Wilbert Finley filed a complaint in the District of South Carolina against Kraft Heinz, Inc. alleging wrongful discharge and violation of the employee protection provisions of the Food Safety Modernization Act. 

According to the complaint, Kraft Heinz is one of the world’s largest food and beverage companies and engages in the manufacturing, processing, packing, transporting and distribution of food products. The complaint further states the defendant has a plant in Newberry, South Carolina that manufactures and distributes meat products and employs approximately 2,500 workers. 

The complaint purports that Wilbert Finely was employed as a Production Manager at the defendant’s Newberry plant from October 29, 2018 until he was discharged on March 26, 2020. The plaintiff states he has 35 years of manufacturing experience and was recruited by the defendant to work at its Newberry plant. The plaintiff further alleges that, until his discharge, he had never been terminated and had never received prior discipline from Kraft Heinz. 

The complaint alleges that, in the summer of 2019, the plaintiff made a report to Kraft Heinz’s HR department, his direct manager and the plant manager that the plant’s severe staffing shortfalls had the potential to impact food safety. The complaint states that Finely did not receive much of a response from his report besides his manager forcing him to sign a document claiming that he did not understand the meat flow and inventory. The plaintiff argues that he was forced to sign the document to undermine his protected disclosure. 

Starting around mid-February 2020 and continuing into March 2020, the plaintiff states he raised concerns and objections about the use of X-ray machines to detect bone in the defendant’s meat products that had not been properly calibrated. The plaintiff alleges that the Kraft Heinz Quality Department was supposed to validate the X-ray machines, insure everyone was trained, calibrate the cards and remove the key to the machine to ensure the machine could not be bypassed, but it failed to do so. 

The complaint states that on March 26, 2020, Kraft Heinz discharged Finely claiming he had committed a Code of Conduct violation for “dishonesty,” but Finely claims that it was in retaliation for his protected disclosures and because he refused to violate the laws, rules and regulations governing Kraft Heinz operations. 

Subsequently, the plaintiff filed the present lawsuit claiming violation of the employee protection provisions of the Food Safety Modernization Act by terminating the plaintiff for his protected disclosure of food adulteration and wrongful discharge under South Carolina Law. The plaintiff seeks reinstatement of his employment, injunctive relief, back pay for lost wages and benefits, economic and non-economic damages, expungement of written warnings, reprimands,  negative performance appraisals and other derogatory information in the plaintiff’s file, attorney’s fees and costs. The plaintiff is represented by J. Christopher Mills, Esquire.