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Former Worker Accuses Legendary Napa-Based Bean Company of Discrimination

In a July 2021 lawsuit filed in Napa County Superior Court, a former worker alleges the company fired her for being pregnant

Variety of beans getting ready for shipment in the factory of bean supplier Rancho Gordo seen on Wednesday, March 4, 2020, in Napa, Calif. Photo By Liz Hafalia/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

A former Rancho Gordo temp worker has sued the cult-favorite bean purveyor, alleging the Napa-based company discriminated against her based on “sex, national origin, and pregnancy” and wrongfully terminated her for being pregnant, the San Francisco Chronicle reports the lawsuit accuses. Martha Martinez, who filed the lawsuit in Napa County Superior Court in July 2021, began working in the company’s warehouse in November 2019 after a temporary staffing agency placed her in the job as a shipping clerk.

Not long after starting the job, the lawsuit alleges, Martinez, who is Salvadorean, began experiencing discrimination based on her national origin. According to the lawsuit, other workers made inappropriate comments about Salvadoreans, calling them “very horny” and “like whores,” the Chronicle reports. Martinez’s supervisor “participated in these offensive remarks and also observed co-workers engaging in derogatory, harassing treatment,” per the lawsuit. Martinez says she didn’t report the alleged behavior at the time.

Both the company and Martinez agree the alleged comments occurred on a single day when Martinez was first hired. In the lawsuit, the company also says the comments weren’t directed at Martinez specifically. However, she testified that in other instances, other staff also made comments about “her body and how she dressed, though it’s unclear whether that was related to her background,” the Chronicle reports. Because the alleged behavior wasn’t reported to the company, attorneys for Rancho Gordo say “the company wasn’t put on notice to respond.”

Additionally, Martinez alleges she was illegally fired for being pregnant. According to the lawsuit, she told her supervisor and some co-workers she was pregnant in February 2020. The company, however, asserts “she told only co-workers and assumed that other managers heard indirectly that she was pregnant,” per the Chronicle. A few days later, Martinez told her supervisor she needed to miss work due to a “family emergency,” at which point the supervisor told Martinez “Rancho Gordo would not need her anymore,” according to the lawsuit.

Martinez later reached out to her supervisor to ask why she’d been let go, and alleging she’d been fired due to her pregnancy. In text messages filed in court documents, the supervisor tells Martinez she was unaware of the pregnancy and says Martinez was fired for being “absent too frequently,” the Chronicle writes. The company ended all temporary work assignments in February 2020 “due to the onset of the pandemic and a decrease in sales, according to legal documents,” legal documents state.

Founder Steve Sando, who declined to comment in an email to Eater SF, started Rancho Gordo more than 20 years ago, with the goal of introducing more people to heirloom bean varieties. Over the past two decades, the company has grown into a food culture phenomenon, with Sando hailed as a “bean king” and thousands of people filling a waitlist for the company’s hit bean club. During early 2020, the company experienced a dramatic uptick in online sales driven by home cooks’ desire to stockpile dry foods including beans due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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