HOUSTON (CN) - The Hershey Co. must try to settle the discrimination claim of a black employee it fired, a federal judge ruled.
The largest manufacturer of chocolate in North America, Hershey employs sales representatives who build and stock displays in stores within assigned territories.
Yolanda Turner, an African-American, worked as a sales rep in Houston for more than 8 years until she was fired in late 2011 and replaced by a white woman.
Turner's African-American boss, Russell Williams, claimed he fired her for entering false data into her "Retail Execution System," or REX, a handheld device employees use to record how much time they spend in particular stores.
Turner sued the Pennsylvania-based chocolatier in November 2012, claiming Williams had "specifically directed his black African-American sales staff to do exactly what he calls falsifying time in the REX," and that he "was not shy about telling and warning black workers that they were being targeted for termination because they are black."
Williams is not a defendant; the only defendant is Hershey's itself.
Turner testified in a deposition that she had several conversations with Williams in which he said he had too many blacks on his team and needed to get rid of them.
To support this, Turner submitted testimony from Christina Tyson, an African-American whom Williams also allegedly fired for fudging her REX data.
In a deposition, Tyson said Williams advised her: "If you're spending seven hours in one Wal-Mart, while you're in that Wal-Mart, you need to clock in to the rest of your stores that you were supposed to be in that day.
"That way that your cycle analytics stay on track and that as a team we don't get dinged for not having the correct model time or that you're deviating from your route."
In defense, Hershey claimed it also fired Ryan Parsons, a white sales agent, for falsifying data, so Turner could not prove her firing was race-related.
But Parsons said in a declaration that he was not actually fired. He said he was given a choice to resign with a favorable reference, be fired, or stay with Hershey and be put on an improvement plan.
He decided to resign, according to his declaration.
Hershey also claimed that because Williams is African-American he would not have fired Turner because of her race.
But U.S. District Judge Sim Lake refused to dismiss the case in an Oct. 3 order.
"The fact that Williams belongs to the same protected class as the plaintiff does not necessarily mean that he did not discharge plaintiff for discriminatory reasons," the 21-page ruling states.
Lake ordered the parties to mediation.
Hershey's attorney, Amanda Lavis with Rhoads and Sinon of Harrisburg, Pa. did not respond to a request for comment.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.