Cargill Meat Solutions Corp., one of the largest privately-held companies in the world, has agreed to settle with the U.S. Department of Labor and pay $2.24 million for allegations of sex-based, race-based, and ethnicity-based discrimination in the company’s hiring practices. The settlement will be paid to 2,959 applicants who were discriminated against at three meat-processing plants during the hiring process for production jobs between 2005 through 2009.
The meat-processing plant in Springdale, Arkansas discriminated against female applicants, the plant in Fort Morgan, Colorado affected female, Caucasian and Hispanic applicants, and the plant based in Beardstown, Illinois discriminated against African-American and Caucasian applicants. Cargill’s Senior Vice President made a statement stating that Cargill does not employ discriminatory hiring practices, and that the reason for settlement was to avoid lengthy litigation and any cost or disruptions associated with the action. The settlement amount represents back wages and interest owed to the applicants affected and as part of the agreement, Cargill has agreed to provide 354 jobs to the affected applicants as positions open up within the plants.
Employment Law Settlements
This type of settlement, especially as applied to one of the largest, privately-held corporations in the world, represents a significant win in the employment discrimination field. Having a large corporation at the forefront of an employment discrimination scandal forces other major corporations to reassess the way that they hire potential applicants. The U.S. Department of Labor may want to use Cargill as an example, proving to similar, major corporations that they cannot discriminate just because they have a significant profit margin.
Employment discrimination can be one of the most difficult legal issues to prove, and without significant, analytical data demonstrating a disparity in hiring and firing practices, discrimination may continue leaving potential applicants unprotected and without standing to bring a claim.
Discriminatory Practices in Pre-Employment Inquiries
As seen in the recent settlement with Cargill, discrimination can occur at all levels, especially in the hiring practices of big companies. When an applicant goes into an interview, it is important that he or she listen closely and carefully for the types of questions that the interviewer might ask. It is not uncommon for interviewers to word a question that may come across as innocuous, but the answer may provide specific information that may be the basis for discrimination. The EEOC has put out a Guide to Pre-Employment Inquiries which provide a rough outline as to questions that are allowable or may potentially be discriminatory:
With regards to Sex-based discrimination, interviewers generally may not ask the applicant about: marital status, pregnancy status (including medical history or family plans), number/age of children, inquiries into child care (unless asked of all applicants), and/or sex (unless sex is a bona fide occupational qualification and therefore, required for the job). The applicant, however, may be asked about responsibilities or commitments that will prevent the applicant from satisfying his/her work schedule as long as these questions are asked of ALL applicants, regardless of sex.
With regards to Race-based, Ethnicity-based, and National Origin discrimination, interviewers are not allowed to ask, directly or indirectly, about the applicant’s race or skin color, and/or the applicant’s birthplace, national origin, ancestry, or lineage; however, the applicant may be asked if he/she is a U.S. citizen or an alien authorized to work in the United States.
With regards to Religion-based discrimination, interviewers are not allowed to ask the applicant about any type of religious affiliation, church, and/or religious holidays that he/she observes; however, if religion is a bona fide occupational qualification and/or all applicants are asked about their availability to work on weekends or certain evenings because it is a business necessity, then these questions may be permitted.
The above-mentioned are illustrative (but not exhaustive) of the types of questions that may be asked that could be discriminatory against a few, protected classes of people. Employment discrimination is complicated, and it is best to direct any questions or concerns about any discriminatory practices that may have affected your employment to an experienced attorney. Contact our law offices today if you believe you have been affected by a discriminatory employment practice or policy.