Federal Complaint: Hostile Work Environment in the Lunchroom



Text of complaint to the USDA-OCR

17 February 2014


Mr. Carl-Martin Ruiz – Director, Office of Adjudication
Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
300 7th Street, S.W. Rm. 541 Reporter’s Building, Mail Stop 9410
Washington, D.C. 20250


Re: Sex Discrimination in the Salt Lake City School District

 Dear Mr. Carl-Martin Ruiz,

I am currently serving as a member of the Board of Education for the Salt Lake City School District. On behalf of several Child Nutrition employees in our school district, I am filing a complaint of sex discrimination with your office.

I believe that your office has jurisdiction because it is USDA policy to ensure no person is subject to prohibited discrimination in programs and activities funded in whole or part by USDA based on race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, and, where applicable, political beliefs, marital or familial status, income, or because of the receipt of public assistance.

As you are aware, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d to 2000d-6, prohibits discrimination based on race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving Federal financial assistance; and USDA Implementing Regulation, 7 CFR Part 15, Subpart A and Subpart C.

Additionally, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (20 U.S.C. § 1681 et. seq.), which prohibits discrimination based on sex under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance; and USDA Implementing Regulation, 7 CFR Part 15 a. It is unlawful to discriminate against any employee because of his/her sex in regard to hiring, termination, promotion, compensation, job training, or any other term, condition, or privilege of employment.

I believe the Salt Lake City School District is in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 which USDA has authority to enforce these statutes.

I am alleging that the Salt Lake City School District has created and maintained an intimidating and hostile working environment within its Child Nutrition Department. The abusive environment impacts the female employees of the school district which is one of the recognized protected classes.

Many of the Child Nutrition employees sought me out and have explained to me the pervasive pattern and practice of abusive behavior, perpetrated by the male director of the child nutrition department. These complaints are from various child nutrition employees spanning multiple schools throughout the district:

  • Child Nutrition employees are not allowed to take their 30 minute lunch, yet are required to punch in and out so that the time cards show the 30 min. They are told to participate in this deception under the threat of termination
  • Child Nutrition employees are not being paid for hours they work over 29.5 hours. When an employee complains they are told to get another job if they don’t like it
  • Child Nutrition employees who get injured at work are terminated and told that they will not be covered by workman’s compensation
  • Child Nutrition employees who are injured at work are not given time off, even if ordered by a doctor and told to return to work under the threat of termination
  • Many schools are short Child Nutrition employees and cannot get all the work done that is needed. In some schools the employees work extra hours to make up the difference but are not compensated for the additional hours
  • Distribution of summer work hours are done in an inequitable manner
  • Child Nutrition employees report that there is a constant threat of termination whenever an employee questions unethical practices
  • Employees are terminated for questioning the unethical practices
  • Child Nutrition employees report the constant threat of termination if they talk to anyone else about the unethical behavior
  • When complaints are passed up the chain of command they are told to quit because the circumstances are not going to change
  • Many employees quit because of the stressful environment
  • In several elementary schools the 4th & 5th grade students are not receiving a full lunch because not enough food was ordered or prepared. This is caused by being short staffed
  • Food preparation is not done to current health standards due to being short on staff, employees are told to make do or stay longer hours without compensation or quit

These actions by management are severe, pervasive and objectively offensive. These conditions have created a hostile environment for the female employees of the school district and in my opinion constitutes intentional sex discrimination.

If your office initiates an investigation into these allegations I can provide the contact information for at least 10 Child Nutrition employees that have spoken directly to me.

By way of illustration, on January 28, 2014, A School District Field Supervisor, appeared at Uintah Elementary School (Salt Lake City, Utah) and ordered lunchroom manager Shirley Canham to discard the lunches of all students whose lunch accounts had a zero balance. They took the lunches from forty students and discarded them and then gave the students a milk and an orange.

This incident attracted national attention. Ms. Canham was placed on administrative leave and later ……


It is clear to me that the employees that work in the Child Nutrition Department of the Salt Lake City School District, are subjected to hostile and intimidating working environment by the male administrators of this department.  The actions that create this abusive environment are pervasive and consistent, to the point that the employees of this department fear going to work because of the intimidating, oppressive and bully atmosphere. Furthermore, they have no administrative avenues to seek relief from these abusive actions. It is for that reason that I am compelled to file this complaint.


J. Michael Clára
Board Member, District 2  


PDF Version of the Letter

Comments are closed.