Black Workers in Illinois File Lawsuit Accusing Job Agency of Favoring Hispanic Applicants

Blommer Chocolate is one of several companies named in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. (Tim Boyle/Getty Images)
Blommer Chocolate is one of several companies named in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. (Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

A group of African-American workers filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court on Tuesday against a nationwide job placement agency and several of its clients, accusing them of discriminating against black applicants by favoring Hispanic applicants.

The lawsuit, filed in United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, alleges that the agency, MVP Staffing, used a range of discriminatory practices, including code words for job applicants of different races, to honor the requests of corporate clients who refused to employ African-Americans in temporary positions. The company operates about 60 offices in 38 states.

The suit accuses the company of eight counts of racial discrimination based on the operations of its office in Cicero, Ill. A phone message and an email seeking comment from MVP Staffing on Monday night were not returned, and a person who answered the phone on Tuesday declined to comment.

The other companies named in the suit are also in the Chicago area. They are Personnel Staffing Group, the Segerdahl Group, Mercury Plastics Inc., Jet Lithocolor, The Penray Companies Inc., WestRock Consumer Packaging Group, AGI Media, Lawrence Foods Inc. and the Blommer Chocolate Company.

Representatives at Mercury, Personnel and WestRock declined to comment on Tuesday; the others did not respond to requests.

Joe Sellers, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, said he believed that racial discrimination was widespread in the staffing industry, which connects job seekers with employment that is often temporary.

“What we have seen in this industry is that this is a more widespread phenomenon than what we have just found in this case, with this company,” Mr. Sellers said. “The staffing agencies follow the requests made by the client companies even if they happen to be ones that might exclude people based on race.”

Mr. Sellers said there were several other anti-discrimination class-action lawsuits in process against staffing agencies and their client companies in Illinois. The agencies “do the bidding of the employers on whose behalf they are reviewing candidates,” he said. “It is a process readily susceptible to abuse.”

Catherine Ruckelshaus, general counsel for the National Employment Law Project, said the discriminatory practices alleged at staffing agencies were “a microcosm of the problem that’s happening across our economy.”

“Companies have figured out that if they outsource their recruiting and hiring, and what’s often considered to be the messy parts of their H.R. function, that they can then absolve themselves of any liability,” Ms. Ruckelshaus said. That hits low-wage minority workers the hardest because of “entrenched and persistent discrimination,” she said.

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SOURCE: LIAM STACK 
The New York Times