Organic food delivery service accused of repackaging chain restaurant products

By Scott Rodd  – Staff Writer, Sacramento Business Journal

July 25, 2018

Trifecta Nutrition, which won a high-profile competition for local startup businesses and struck partnerships with national sports organizations, is accused in a lawsuit of repackaging processed foods from chain and fast-food restaurants and passing it off as high-quality organic meals suitable for top-level athletes in training.

Two former employees also accuse the West Sacramento-based company of failing to pay wages and taxes, and fostering a hostile work environment, among a wide range of allegations in a lawsuit filed July 9 in Sacramento County Superior Court.

The former employees, Cooper Scott Thornton and Jodi Charter, claim they were unlawfully terminated in August 2017. Thornton was a customer service manager at Trifecta, and Charter was a social media and marketing representative. The suit seeks, at a minimum, hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages for unpaid wages and overtime, failure to provide meal breaks and other claims.

Trifecta is a food-delivery service specializing in organic meals and fare that meets the needs of diets, including paleo and vegan. Founded in 2015, the company won the 2017 Sacramento Kings Capitalize competition for local startup businesses, struck partnerships with USA Weightlifting and the CrossFit Games and claimed Sacramento-based MMA champion Urijah Faberamong its investors.

The company denies the allegations.

“Trifecta strongly opposes the allegations and claims present in the underlying lawsuit,” the company said in an emailed statement to the Business Journal. “While we cannot discuss the details of pending litigation nor provide specifics regarding the alleged claims at this time, we look forward to correcting the record regarding the salacious and misguided claims brought by these two disgruntled fired employees.”

Thornton could not be reached for comment, and Charter declined to comment for this story.

Phil Andrews, CEO of USA Weightlifting, expressed concern about the allegations in the lawsuit.

“USA Weightlifting routinely reviews our partnerships to ensure they meet the needs of our athletes,” he said in an email. “Currently, Trifecta supplies food to a handful of our athletes. We were unaware of the pending litigation until you raised it just now, but are troubled by the accusations you presented. We are contacting Trifecta to learn more.”

Siblings Greg and Elizabeth “Liz” Connolly, who grew up in Loomis, founded Trifecta with the goal of offering “organic, healthy, delicious food that was cooked fresh, with convenience and (at) a reasonable price,” according to the company’s website.

Trifecta received $10,000 and an opportunity to pitch to angel investors, with its victory in the Kings Capitalize contest in March 2017.

Faber, who’s invested in a number of local, health-related businesses, is listed as a managing partner of Trifecta on its website. He is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit and could not be reached for comment for this story.

Trifecta and the Connollys are named as defendants in the 100-page lawsuit, along with Jerry Lamigo, another co-founder, and chief technology officer Tyler Thomas.

The lawsuit claims that the Connollys “created, fostered and encouraged a workplace environment charged with and fueled by sexual harassment, drug and alcohol abuse.”

Charter alleges that Greg Connolly treated her and other women in the office in a “condescending and abusive” manner, and regularly made disparaging comments about overweight women. Charter also claims that when she spoke up about the offensive language — and the fact that overweight individuals were among Trifecta’s target market — her concerns were brushed aside.

Charter also claims a photograph was circulated in the office that showed a Trifecta gift card cutting a mound of cocaine, a .40-caliber handgun, a sex toy and a stack of $100 bills.

Thornton alleges he was consistently the target of sexual harassment by Liz Connolly, including regular propositions from the co-founder and inappropriate text messages, despite repeatedly rebuffing her advances.

Charter and Thornton additionally raise the issue of quality, and sourcing, of Trifecta’s food.

The suit claims that Trifecta procures its food pre-packaged from Chino Hills-based Nutrition Corp, with little or no direct quality oversight to ensure the food meets the company’s guarantee of  “organic, gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free and non-GMO,” according to court documents.

The lawsuit includes documentation showing that Nutrition Corp. has been cited for 30 health inspection violations since December 2013, including an August 2017 vermin infestation that resulted in the suspension of the company’s food processing permit.

Nutrition Corp. representatives could not be reached for comment.

The plaintiffs allege Trifecta’s actions reached the level of fraud during the 2017 CrossFit Games in Madison, Wisconsin. The CrossFit Games had contracted with Trifecta to provide healthy, organic food options for nearly 650 competitors during the four-day fitness competition. Realizing that the company could not provide food on the scale necessary, Liz Connolly began contacting area restaurants to prepare what the company referred to as “Trifecta-style” food, the lawsuit claims.

The food served by Trifecta at the competition included pancakes, meat and egg products from IHOP; pork and other meat products from a local barbecue restaurant; and hamburger buns from McDonald’s, the lawsuit claims. Trifecta is alleged to have not disclosed the sources of the food to competitors, or that it likely was not organic, gluten-free, soy-free or GMO-free.

A screenshot of text messages, which was included in the complaint, appears to show Liz Connolly discussing ordering lasagna from an area restaurant to serve at the competition. When the question was raised of whether the lasagna was beef or pork, Connolly said she ordered beef.

“I’ll call now to verify, don’t wanna kill any jews,” Connolly stated in the text exchange.

The plaintiffs claim that CrossFit only became aware of the source of the food provided by Trifecta at the competition when it was contacted by an outside restaurant to confirm Trifecta was a vendor at the event.

CrossFit representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

“It appears to us that there is an enormous distinction between how the company presents itself to the public and its investors and how it operates,” said attorney Kevin Hughey, who represents Thornton and Charter. “Based on our due diligence, which was extensive, this appears to be a company run by leadership that’s trying to generate the most consumer and investor interest possible without concern for consumer safety or legal business practices.”

Trifecta did not respond to specific requests for comment on its alleged activities at the CrossFit competition or Liz Connolly’s alleged text messages, but stated the company “will continue to succeed in providing a quality product, and quality meals, to thousands of satisfied customers.”

Charter and Thornton also claim Trifecta did not adequately track overtime and failed to pay them appropriate wages for work and travel. At various points during 2016 and 2017, they were paid by the company from the personal PayPal and Venmo accounts of Greg and Liz Connolly, the lawsuit states. The suit contains a screenshot that appears to show PayPal account payments from Liz Connolly to Charter. The lawsuit alleges that this was because the company was not authorized to do business in California at the time, and that as a result the company either misreported or failed to report tax liabilities to state and federal agencies.

The company, which was first registered in Wyoming, did not register with the state of California until March 2018, documents filed with the Secretary of State appear to show.

Charter worked for Trifecta for a little more than a year, according to her LinkedIn profile. She went on to work for Luxer One, a Sacramento-based provider of package lockers for apartment complexes and commercial buildings with multiple tenants.