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Krispy Kreme Resolves Discrimination Suit


Krispy Kreme has settled a lawsuit brought by a group of former Western Washington employees who claimed they had been repeatedly sexually harassed and otherwise discriminated against because they are Hispanic.

In announcing the settlement yesterday, the doughnut maker did not admit any wrongdoing, and terms of the out-of-court agreement are being kept confidential.

But the five ex-employees who filed the suit and their attorney said they were thrilled.

At a news conference, the former workers said they were glad they had stuck up for themselves, and encouraged others to do the same even if they don't speak English well or they otherwise feel helpless.

"Before, she is afraid. Today, she is not," said one of the plaintiffs, Maria De Jesus Deniz Murillo, through a translator.

The suit was filed in King County Superior Court in May 2003. Its claims centered around several different types of discrimination.

In addition to Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, it named as defendants ICON, an Illinois-based company, and its subsidiary, KremeWorks Washington the partnership operating Krispy Kreme outlets in this region.

Matthew Peterson, a supervisor in the Issaquah store, and another manager there, Humberto Esparza, were also named as defendants. An amended complaint filed last December dropped Esparza from the suit.

Most of the employees who sued began working at Krispy Kreme when its first Washington store opened in Issaquah on Oct. 30, 2001. It was an instant smash, breaking weekly sales records for the company.

The problems for Deniz Murillo named "Jane Doe" in the complaint began soon after she was hired. According to the lawsuit, Peterson, one of her supervisors, began demanding sexual favors.

When he threatened to fire Deniz Murillo, then 20 and a single mother, she succumbed to his demands, the lawsuit contended. All the sexual acts took place at the Issaquah store, the suit said.

Later, when Deniz Murillo declined to have sex with Peterson, "he subjected her to increased and unwarranted criticism or other adverse employment actions," the suit said.

In August 2002, Deniz Murillo stopped the sexual encounters for good. Soon after, pressure from Peterson forced her to quit, she later claimed.

The suit says Peterson also harassed another female worker, Margarita Salazar. On one occasion, in March 2002, he allegedly exposed himself to her. When she complained, the company took no action, the lawsuit said.

When two of the other plaintiffs, David Rico-Lopez and Ernesto Murillo, tried to speak up for their female co-workers, they were warned they had violated company rules, the suit said.

The suit also claimed both Rico-Lopez and Murillo were paid less than their white counterparts doing the same work.

Deniz Murillo, Salazar, Rico-Lopez and Murillo are all of Mexican descent. Most of them speak only halting English.

The fifth plaintiff, Victoria Rystad, is Spanish and Filipino.

Each, except Deniz Murillo, was fired.

Peterson and Esparza, both of whom no longer work at the Issaquah store, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Gerard Centioli, KremeWorks' president and chief executive officer, declined comment. In previous interviews, he has vehemently denied the suit's claims and has said an investigation by a major Seattle law firm found nothing to substantiate them.

A company news release yesterday stated only that resolution had been reached on all the claims. The terms of the agreement are confidential, the release said.

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