Beall’s Outlet Employees Protest Treatment
Sebastian, Florida
(by Connie Spicer)

June 22, 2010

Employees and former employees of Beall’s Outlet, a division of Beall’s Department Stores, were protesting at the Roseland Plaza store on US 1 in Sebastian Monday. Signs noting “Unfair Practices” and “Beall’s Discriminates Against Age” were lofted in anger as nearly a dozen women protested what they view as discriminatory and unfair labor violations, primarily on the part of one district manager, though others are also noted.

Brenda Petito, a former manager of Beall’s Outlet’s Vero Beach store was the group’s acting spokesperson. Petito says she was a manager there for two years, and previously managed the Gainesville Beall’s Outlet store for two years. She and Lisa Forsberg, a six-year former manager at this same Sebastian store where they were protesting, had numerous complaints about their treatment and that of other managers and employees of Beall’s.

Petito said that this district manager, Nicole Martinez, has made inflammatory and discriminatory comments, and even terminated individuals due to their age, disability, and gender, citing a situation where Martinez told her directly, “We need to get rid of these older employees”. She also claimed that Martinez didn’t want men working in the stores, and went as far as terminating a male worker hired by Petito in retaliation for Petito’s resignation – a resignation which she feels she was forced to offer. Petito and Forsberg went over Martinez’ as per corporate policy only to be reprimanded for doing so. The Regional Manager, Jerry Izzi, allegedly forced Lisa Forsberg into quitting her job at one store while Petito was working with Martinez at another. When Brenda Petito quit her position due to the working conditions, Florida’s Agency for Workforce Innovation Unemployment Compensation Program found, “The quitting was with good cause attributable to the employer” and is charging the employer for her benefits.

Another employee, who asked to remain anonymous, said she has been fighting cancer for some time. The district manager allegedly wrote her up for “wearing unapproved clothing”, because she wore a cap to cover the hair loss resulting from her chemotherapy treatments.

Ms. Nadine Kelley was a 3-year manager for Beall’s Outlet. She says her salary was based on a 40-hour work week, but, like all managers, she was on call 24 hours a day, every day–as managers are. She says she understands that her duties and responsibilities to Beall’s and to her employees were for more than 40 hour work weeks, but that often managers were used as unpaid labor, made to work their own and their staff’s jobs – and not paid – for often another 20 to 40 hours per week. Many times they were expected to take over for the hourly workers and were unable to even eat or take reasonable breaks. She says she was forced to dock hourly workers pay and to write them up for issues beyond their control, most often for health or age-related issues about which, she, Kelley, was sympathetic and understanding.

Kelley, Forsberg and Petito each commented on a situation in which Kelley, coming in as a new manager at Beall’s, was discussing with Martinez situations with employees. Kelley says that Martinez pointed one female employee out, noting that the employee had had breast cancer, and commented that the employee now “had (it) a second time. How many times can you get (breast cancer)?”

She also noted that she, herself, recently had to undergo a hysterectomy and was off under the FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act); and yet was called in to work despite that – being told by Martinez, “how long does it take to recover from (a hysterectomy)”? Kelley says she remained in touch with her key employees and had other situations to directly comment on.

She noted one employee, who was disabled from arthritis, was off work for some time due to the disease. She was called back to work on a limited disability. The day she returned to work, Martinez called her in and terminated her because the store suddenly “didn’t have an available opening”.

I asked the ladies if they had specific proof of incidents, and, with the exception of Brenda Petito’s ruling by Unemployment, they noted the time-clock records, write-ups and hearsay evidence in Beall’s files would validate them.

While I was there, a gentleman pulled up in a truck to inquire what was going on. He said he didn’t want to leave his name, but said he was a deputy sheriff and retired Vietnam War veteran who dated a former Beall’s employee. I asked him how he felt about these employees, protesting the company the way they were, and he advised, “If they can prove their case, they should go for it!” His comments left little room for doubt that his lady friend had also encountered issues with her employment with Beall’s.

These employees and others will be protesting again at another Beall’s Outlet in the next few days and hope to garner more support. I will attempt to contact Ms. Martinez and Mr. Izzi along with Beall’s corporate offices for their comments on this story and will post that article when that happens and also plan to cover the next protest. Brenda Petito is currently waiting a decision by the EEOC regarding her claims, and is hoping to file a class action lawsuit afterward, if given the right to sue by the EEOC.

CJS

Note: Article has been edited since it’s original publication.