A former employee of a Target store in Freeport has filed a federal lawsuit against the popular retailer claiming discrimination because, he said, his superiors denied his Hispanic heritage by addressing him as “Jonathan” instead of his given name, “Jose,” and forced him to wear a nametag with the wrong moniker — all to ease the fears of white clientele at the location.
Jose Diaz, 18, who began working at the Sunrise Highway location of Target in October 2018, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Central Islip stating he also was fired in retaliation in November 2018 over his complaints about what he called the “whitewashing” of his heritage.
“Plaintiff has been unlawfully discriminated against, retaliated against, extremely humiliated, degraded, victimized, and embarrassed,” says his 10-page lawsuit filed Tuesday.
The filing seeks punitive damages but states no amount, adding that he was discriminated against on the basis of “race, actual and/or perceived national origin, and retaliated against for complaining of the discriminatory act.” It accuses Target of violating federal and state laws barring discrimination and retaliation for claiming discrimination.
Diaz’s attorneys declined to comment Wednesday, and Target officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Diaz said in the lawsuit that within the first week of his starting work as a sales associate on Oct. 1, 2018, Diaz was told by a supervisor that he should wear a nametag bearing the name Jonathan instead of his birth name, Jose.
“Defendant went on to explain to plaintiff that his name does not ‘fit’ the predominantly white neighborhood demographics and his birth name would incite fear and uneasiness in customers,” the lawsuit said, adding that Diaz protested but was still required to wear the nametag.
On Oct. 15, 2018, he complained to another supervisor, the lawsuit said, who allegedly dismissed the complaint and told him he could quit if he didn’t like the nametag.
“It was clear to plaintiff that in order to continue working for defendant, he had to acquiesce to being called by a non-Hispanic sounding/ethnic name,” the litigation said. “Plaintiff engaged in protected activity when he made this complaint about the discriminatory treatment of being referred to as a whitewashed version of his name. Immediately after making a complaint, plaintiff was subjected to a retaliatory hostile work environment.”
It goes on to explain that Diaz was not given proper training and was fired on Nov. 14, 2018.
“Defendant retaliated against plaintiff for making complaints about discrimination by terminating his employment,” the lawsuit said. “Plaintiff was callously removed from his employment for discriminatory and retaliatory reasons after Plaintiff engaged in a protected activity. Causation between Plaintiff’s engagement in protected activity and his termination is clear and absolute herein by the temporal proximity between the two actions of less than a month.”
The lawsuit seeks lost wages, compensatory damages, filing and attorneys’ fees and “other and further relief as the Court may deem equitable, just and proper to remedy Defendant’s unlawful employment practices.”
In an email statement Friday afternoon, Target spokeswoman Danielle Schumann wrote: "Target has a longstanding commitment to building diverse teams and creating a work environment where all differences are welcomed and valued. We’re aware of the lawsuit and have been in close communication with Mr. Diaz for several months about his alleged claims. We thoroughly investigated and found no evidence of team members requesting or requiring Mr. Diaz to wear a name tag with a name other than his own.