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11/6/2017 11:49:00 AM
Lawsuit claims sex discrimination, illegal pricing by liquor distributor

Scott L. Miley, Kokomo Tribune CNHI News Indiana Reporter

INDIANAPOLIS — A fired sales representative for a major liquor distributor is suing his former boss in a lawsuit that in part accuses the employer of condoning an illegal alcohol pricing scheme.

However, it was due to the employee participating in the price break that he was reportedly fired, according to the lawsuit in the U.S. Southern District of Indiana.

The federal lawsuit by Matthew Campbell alleges that he was illegally fired from Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits because of his sex. His supervisor was a woman and female sales representatives, who he said also participated in the scheme, were not fired, he claims.

Campbell, who lives in Johnson County, worked for the company from 1997 until his dismissal on Aug. 18, 2015. He had been placed on a work improvement plan in June 2015, allegedly due to poor performance. Campbell claims he was the highest performing sales rep at the time.

In August, he was accused by his employer of failing to have a customer sign an invoice, the lawsuit states.

“However, in reality plaintiff [Campbell] had performed a ‘take,’ a tactic employed at the behest of his supervisor to facilitate an illegal preferential pricing scheme,” according to the lawsuit filed by Campbell’s Indianapolis attorney, Keenan D. Wilson.

Women employees who engaged in “takes” were not disciplined, the suit claims.

Campbell is accusing the firm of sex discrimination and is asking for an unspecified amount to cover lost wages, benefits and punitive damages. He also seeks to be reinstated to his same position and salary. Attorney Wilson did not return a call seeking comment.

Campbell’s federal lawsuit is the third this year against Southern Glazer’s to make similar allegations of illegal practices.

Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, based in Florida, is North America’s largest wine and spirits distributor.

On Wednesday, a spokeswoman said she could not comment on the lawsuit in Indianapolis since the company had not been formally served with the filing.

In 2016, Southern Glazer’s contributed to campaign committees representing Gov. Eric Holcomb; Speaker of the House Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis; Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne; and House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, among others, according to the Indiana secretary of state’s office.

On Oct. 6, Jon Thompson, a former vice president of national accounts for Southern Glazer’s, filed a wrongful termination lawsuit in Arkansas. He is seeking $5 million in actual damages and $25 million in punitive damages.

According to the filing, Thompson reported during his employment “numerous illegal pricing practices that favored individual retailers, violated anti-kickback and commercial bribery laws and violated federal antitrust laws. These actions consistently increased the cost of goods for both Walmart and Sam’s Club, harmed their profitability, harmed their ability to compete in the free market and increased cost to customers.”

Thompson was fired in June for his “unwillingness to engage” in those business practices, according to the filing. Business practices, according to the suit, included preferential pricing, exclusive offers, credits, rebates, adjustments and “collusion with competitors in both pricing and non-pricing practices.”

The company has denied the allegations and has pledged to investigate wrongdoing.

In July, a former restaurateur in California alleged illegal business practices by Southern Glazer’s claiming, “Southern’s unlawful scheme also includes sales and distribution of alcohol at reduced prices, if not the provision of alcohol free of charge, to persons/entities who may or may not maintain valid liquor licenses and/ or selling liquor to different parties at different prices, in violation of various federal alcohol regulations, federal and state unfair competition statutes…” Also in July, Southern Glazer’s was among four companies that reached agreements with the U.S. attorney’s office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania to pay fines totaling $9 million and not be prosecuted for providing gifts to Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board officials.

Southern Glazer’s agreed to pay $5 million in penalties for their employees providing cash, all-expenses paid trips, tickets to shows and sporting events, entertainment and other things of value to officials from 2000 to 2012.

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Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR


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