SANTA ANA (CN) - Pizza giant Little Caesars discriminates against gay and lesbian employees by refusing to provide benefits to same-sex couples, a former manager claims in court.
On Wednesday, Frank Bernard sued Little Caesar Enterprises of Detroit and its parent company Ilitch Holdings in a Superior Court complaint for employment discrimination and constructive termination.
Ilitch Holdings' principals Mike Ilitch and Marian Ilitch own the third-largest pizza chain in the country. In addition, the married couple owns the NHL hockey team the Detroit Red Wings, the NFL's Detroit Tigers, MotorCity Casino and Champion Foods.
Bernard, who was legally married in California in six years ago, says he worked for the pizza chain from March to July. He left his job in a matter of months, he says, because the company would not provide health insurance benefits for his husband.
Bernard joined the company as a trainee and was eligible for benefits after 90 days. He said in statement that he was "absolutely shocked" and "hurt" by the company's actions.
"I was incredibly angry that Little Caesar's apparently thought that they did not have to comply with California law, that they could discriminate against me as they pleased, and that there would be no repercussions," Bernard said in a statement.
According to the Aug. 28 complaint, a human resources representative told him that it was Little Caesars' policy not to offer benefits to same sex couples.
"Plaintiff was also told that the company was in Michigan and that they did not have to provide such benefits," Bernard says in his complaint.
The plaintiff says he told his area manager that the policy violates California law, and was told to call HR for a second time. Bernard says a representative repeated that benefits are not available to gay couples.
He says he left a detailed complaint on the Little Caesars ethics answering service on July 1. A week later, Bernard received a letter from HR confirming that its policy was to provide benefits only to heterosexual couples.
"Specifically, the letter states in relevant part: 'Spouse means the one person to whom you are legally married under the laws of the state in which you reside, including a common law spouse, and who is the opposite gender from you,'" the 9-page complaint states.
Bernard says he wrote to Little Caesars informing it of his constructive termination due to the company's discrimination. California Department of Fair Employment and Housing issued a right-to-sue letter to Bernard this week, he says.
Bernard seeks damages, costs and wants judge to order the pizza chain to provide health insurance to gay employees. He is represented by Gloria Allred of Los Angeles firm Allred, Maroko & Goldberg.
Allred said in statement that Little Caesar's policy hurts gay and lesbian couples "economically and emotionally and denies them the respect and dignity."
"I am also concerned that Little Caesar policy could deter gay men and lesbians from applying for employment there, because they will know that they will be discriminated against there," Allred said. "This would have a chilling effect on their employment opportunities."
Little Caesars spokeswoman Jennifer Arapoff told Courthouse News that the chain is "very proud of our long-standing commitment to non-discrimination and inclusiveness."
"Out of respect for the legal process, we will not comment on pending litigation," she wrote in an email.