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South Sudanese immigrant sues Whole Foods for denying promotion

The Maine Human Rights Commission ruled in November that the company illegally discriminated against Mark Opio of Portland
Credit: Webbert & Garvan

PORTLAND, Maine — A Portland man who emigrated from South Sudan when he was 16 is suing Whole Foods for race discrimination and retaliation.

Mark Opio filed suit in Cumberland County Superior Court Tuesday, his attorneys said in a release.

In November 2020, the Maine Human Rights Commission found reasonable grounds to believe Whole Foods and its parent company, Amazon, discriminated against Opio on the basis of race.

The MHRC found no reasonable grounds to believe the company retaliated against Opio for engaging in activity protected by the Whistleblower Protection Act or the Maine Human Rights Act.

After emigrating to Portland when he was 16 and then graduating from college with a degree in business, Opio worked for Whole Foods for more than eight years, more than seven of them in the meat department, according to the release.

In 2019 he applied for a promotion but it was canceled.

Opio alleges a team leader told him, he didn't "know how to read" the store operations manual -- which was not true -- and said "he had not done enough to 'prove himself'" and to get others in the department to "accept you as one of them."

The company then hired a white applicant with only two years of experience at Whole Foods and with no relevant education.

According to Opio's attorneys, none of the 66 supervisors employed at Whole Foods in the two years before Opio filed his complaint were Black.

"It makes me wonder if I will always be treated like a second-class citizen in America," Opio said, in part, in the release.

Management at the Portland Whole Foods store directed calls to a corporate email address. The company did not immediately respond Tuesday afternoon.


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