Worker Takes Second Shot at Pepperidge Farm Pest Report Retaliation, Gender Discrimination Complaint

Last week, an employee claiming that Pepperidge Farm Incorporated retaliated against her for reporting a pest infestation in food preparation equipment filed a second amended complaint in the Middle District of Florida following the dismissal of four out of the five of her Florida law claims. The court’s July order explained that the plaintiff’s allegations lacked the requisite factual depth and also permitted her to replead them.

The plaintiff, Stephanie Dickens, worked as a general utility worker at Pepperidge’s Lakeland, Fla., facility since 2009, the complaint explains. The allegations stem from February 2018, when she alerted her superiors to a cockroach infestation in one of the commercial bakery’s gluten tanks, and thereafter reportedly faced a number of unjustifiable reprimands.

Specifically, in April 2018, the plaintiff was allegedly demoted to a lesser role and paid less than half the amount she made in the two preceding years. The complaint states that she was also subjected to “frivolous” disciplinary action including a “bizarre” five-day suspension after she notified her superiors of the bakery’s unsanitary conditions, heightened scrutiny, and the denial of lateral transfer and promotion requests. The complaint argues that Pepperidge did so despite the plaintiff’s “lengthy tenure, stellar track record and superior knowledge of Defendant’s Bakery department.”

To support her gender-based claims, the plaintiff contends that Pepperidge subjected her to “numerous other disciplinary actions for conduct that it did not reprimand its male employees.” In addition, the plaintiff and women who were employed as general utility workers were “given harsher, and more frequent reprimands than their male counterparts were given for the same conduct,” the complaint avers.

As previously reported, the court dismissed some of the plaintiff’s claims for want of factual support. In particular, the court held that the plaintiff failed to set forth the dates of events relevant to the fact timeline, and also failed to show that her Florida Civil Rights Act (FCRA) claims were timely. The pared-down complaint brings two causes of action for retaliation under the Florida Private Whistleblower’s Act and the FCRA, and one for gender discrimination under the FCRA.

The plaintiff is represented by Printy & Printy, P.A., and Pepperidge Farm by Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, LLP.