Ex-employee's lawsuit alleges discrimination at North Mankato popcorn plant

·2 min read

Sep. 17—NORTH MANKATO — A former employee who quit his job at a North Mankato popcorn manufacturer is suing its parent company claiming racial and religious discrimination.

Gatluak Puot Well's federal lawsuit claims a co-worker at Conagra Brands called him a monkey and he was not allowed to come to work late for religious reasons. His former employer, which operates the Angie's Boomchickapop plant, denies any wrongdoing.

The lawsuit claims Conagra discriminated against Well because of his race, color, national origin and religion and refused to accommodate his religion in violation of federal and state civil rights laws. It seeks a financial award for lost wages and mental anguish.

Well, 54, of Mankato, who is originally from South Sudan, worked at the plant from 2010 to 2019.

His lawsuit claims he was paid less than his co-workers and was denied multiple promotions while less qualified people were given the positions.

The suit also alleges a more senior co-worker yelled at him in 2018, including calling him a "stupid monkey" and saying he "worked like a dog."

Well reportedly complained to human resources, which denied the incident happened. The co-worker also reportedly used a paperweight with an image of a monkey when giving Well written instructions.

In October 2019 supervisors confronted Well about coming to work late on Saturdays. His shifts started at 6 p.m. but his lawsuit claims he had been permitted for years to not come in until after sunset. He is a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and Saturday is his sabbath.

Well's requests for religious accommodation reportedly were ignored.

"To avoid termination of his employment and to escape the intolerable and unlawful harassment, retaliation and discrimination, Well submitted a written resignation," the lawsuit says.

In a written response to the lawsuit, an attorney for Conagra confirmed Well had been denied promotions, filed a complaint about a co-worker, and was talked to about coming to work late on Saturdays.

But the company's response denied paying Well less, denied his claim that his work quality met expectations, and denied ignoring his complaints.

"All decisions made, or actions taken, with respect to plaintiff were justified by legitimate, non-discriminatory, non-retaliatory businesses reasons," the response states. "Conagra is an equal opportunity employer that does not discriminate, harass or retaliate against employees on any prohibited basis."

Well initially sought to file the lawsuit in Blue Earth County District Court but it was moved earlier this month to federal court.

Conagra argues it is not liable for multiple reasons, including that Well did not meet a filing deadline and failed to exhaust other internal remedies.

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