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Woman Who Lost Baby Can Pursue Claims

LOS ANGELES (CN) - An Albertsons worker who blamed conditions at the supermarket chain for the premature death of her baby scored a partial victory in court when a federal judge refused to dismiss her retaliation claims.

In a June 26, 2013 lawsuit, former manager Reyna Garcia claimed Albertsons refused to accommodate her during a high-risk pregnancy, by making her lift heavy items, including 50 pound totes and heavy boxes of liquor.

Garcia said she told her supervisor Charles Compston that she needed accommodations at the Atascadero store, because she had previously given birth prematurely. He refused her requests, even when she presented him with doctor notes stating that she could not lift more than 15 pounds, she claimed.

On Nov. 12, 2012, Compston allegedly told Garcia to carry on working when she was "experiencing tremendous pelvic pressure."

When she returned from work that day, "her amniotic sac began to bulge from between her legs and she was rushed to the emergency room. At twenty weeks' gestation, her doctor thought her body might rebuild the amniotic sac," the complaint states.

Garcia's water broke two days later. "Garcia remained hospitalized and was able to keep her baby inside of her and alive for three days, at which point it became clear to her doctor that her baby would not rebuild the amniotic sac and that the baby was brain damaged," the complaint states. The doctor induced labor on Nov. 17, and Garcia delivered a baby girl "who survived for no more than 10 minutes before dying."

Garcia said she needed 6 weeks to recover, and exercised her rights under the Family Medical Leave Act to take the time off. When she returned to work from medical leave, on Jan. 2, 2013, she says Compston and another supervisor, Lauren Mosely, retaliated against her by writing her up and stripping her of her managerial responsibilities.

In her Oct. 3 order, U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder sought to unravel several complexities in the case.

Albertson's LLC bought out New Albertson's on March 21, 2013. When the LLC executed the buyout it took control of the supermarket chain, and Garcia became an employee of the new owner.

Snyder therefore granted Albertson's motion for summary judgment, finding that it cannot be held liable for "direct retaliatory action" after the sale, or as New Albertson's liable corporate successor.

But the judge otherwise denied the chain's motion, finding that a jury must decide whether the owner is liable because employees "ratified prior malicious conduct" after the sale.

Garcia alleged that two employees, labor relations official Stefanie Gusha and Albertsons director Brent Bohn, had approved Mosley and Compston's conduct by failing to fire them, and that the new owners had adopted the same disability policies as New Albertson's.

Albertson's LLC had adopted New Albertson's policies "regarding disability accommodation, and has not disciplined or discharged either Compston or Mosley," Snyder wrote.

"The undisputed evidence alone would be sufficient for a jury to conclude that plaintiff's employer ratified the alleged misconduct by failing to conduct an adequate investigation, failing to discipline the responsible employees despite knowledge of illegal conduct, or both," according to the 24-page ruling.

Compston testified that he had directed employees to help Garcia with heavy lifting. But Snyder found that that the employees were not interviewed until after Gusha learned of the lawsuit and began an investigation.

"Some of these employees have testified that they were not directed to help plaintiff or informed of plaintiff's medical restrictions," Snyder wrote. "This evidence strengthens the court's conclusion that a jury could conclude that Gusha and Bohn ratified Compston and Mosley's conduct by failing to sufficiently investigate or discipline plaintiff's supervisors."

It "did not matter" that Gusha and Bohn discovered Compston's and Mosley's conduct after the sale, Snyder added.

"Neither Gusha's nor Bohn's job responsibilities changed significantly with the sale and, to plaintiff and similarly situated employees, it did not matter that Gusha and Bohn were receiving paychecks from a different company when they investigated the alleged misconduct and declined to revise corporate policy in light of it," the judge wrote.

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