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Former Employees Sue NYC Sweetgreen, Alleging Racial Discrimination

The 10 plaintiffs claim they were subjected to racist and sexualized remarks at select locations

A Sweetgreen Restaurant As Earnings Figures Released
Salad chain Sweetgreen named in racial discrimination lawsuit.

Ten former employees of Sweetgreen filed a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination and bias related to several NYC locations. The document was filed Thursday in the Bronx Supreme Court.

In addition to Sweetgreen corporate, NYC store managers, Donald Izquierdo (who has worked at the Sweetgreen of 55th Street and Park Avenue since 2017) and Edwin Ventura (a lead at 67 Wall Street from 2019 to 2021), are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

All 10 of the plaintiffs listed in the lawsuit self-identified as African American. The lawsuit states that Izquierdo allegedly fostered “a discriminatory and hostile work environment” for a plaintiff on the basis of her gender and race. Another allegation is that managers failed to act when an employee repeatedly made inappropriate comments, including telling the plaintiff that she had “dick-sucking lips” and “other sexually inappropriate comments on a regular basis” that both a plaintiff “and Izquierdo overheard.”

A manager of the Gansevoort Street location, not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, is alleged to have failed to stop the use of the N-word and the calling Black employees “monkeys,” which the lawsuit claims was rampant at this outpost.

The plaintiffs also claimed that, based on bias and complaints they made regarding the workplace, they were passed over for increased hours and other equal compensation opportunities.

The plaintiffs seek an award of monetary damages determined at trial.

Avi Mermelstein of the law firm, Arenson, Dittmar & Karban, representing the 10 plaintiffs, said in a statement to Eater: “For too many Black employees, having to listen to managers and co-workers use racial slurs is just a part of their daily work environment.” (Mermelstein’s law firm also represented a former employee of Pret-a-Manger, who sued the company for alleged racial discrimination in 2020.) Of Sweetgreen, he added, “That’s both wrong and illegal. Being exposed to constant harassment creates a hostile and psychologically unsafe work environment and companies simply must do better to protect their employees.”

A spokesperson for Sweetgreen responded to the allegations. “At Sweetgreen, we are committed to diversity as well as a safe and inclusive workplace. We take these accusations seriously and do not tolerate any form of harassment, discrimination, or unsafe working conditions. We are unable to comment further on any pending legal matters,” they said.

Sweetgreen was founded in 2007, in Washington D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood by Nicolas Jammet, Jonathan Neman, and Nathaniel Ru. It has hundreds of locations nationwide.

Melissa McCart contributed reporting.

Update: September 14, 2023, 12:48 p.m.: This article was updated to include a statement from a Sweetgreen spokesperson.