WASHINGTONCargill Meat Solutions has reached a $2.24 million settlement with the U.S. Department of Labor to resolve charges that the company discriminated in its hiring practices based on race and sex, the government agency announced Wednesday.
The Wichita, Kan.-based company will pay back wages and interest to 2,959 applicants who were rejected for production jobs at facilities in Arkansas, Colorado and Illinois between 2005 and 2009, the Labor Department said. Females, Caucasians, Hispanics and African Americans were among those applicants affected by the settlement.
The company also has agreed to extend 354 job offers to the affected workers as positions open up as well as implement self-monitoring measures to confirm that all hiring practices comply with the law, including record-keeping requirements.
Cargill Meat Solutions denied that it discriminated against applicants and characterized the Labor Department's allegations as "unfounded and without merit."
"After carefully weighing all options, Cargill chose to avoid the cost, business interruptions and uncertainty created by lengthy litigation, and will pay $2.2 million into a settlement fund," the company said in a press release.
The Labor Department noted compliance officers in its Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) found evidence that Cargill's hiring processes and selection procedures violated an executive order by discriminating on the bases of sex, race and/or ethnicity.
"We are disappointed with the way OFCCP uses a mathematical model to allege violations in the absence of evidence," Bill Buckner, Cargill senior vice president, said. "We believe the agency needs to change the way it applies the law to ensure that OFCCP is not forcing employers to violateby using quotesthe very laws the agency is supposed to be enforcing."
Cargill Meat Solutions is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Minneapolis-based Cargill Inc., the distributor of beef, pork and turkey products.
Since 2005, Cargill has held federal contracts valued at more than $1.4 billion, the Labor Department said. OFCCP enforces Executive Order 11246 and two laws that require companies transacting business with the U.S. government to refrain from employment discrimination.
Executive Order 11246, which the meat company was accused of violating, bars federal contractors and subcontractors with contracts worth more than $10,000 from discriminating in employment decisions on the basis of color, race, religion, sex or national origin.
The settlement affects applicants who sought production jobs at beef facilities in Fort Morgan, Colo., turkey facilities in Springdale, Ark. and pork facilities in Beardstown, Ill.
In November 2011, the Labor Department sued Cargill, alleging employment discrimination at the facilities in Springdale. The Labor Department said the settlement resolves the lawsuit as well as its two other reviews.
"Discrimination should never be used to justify favoring one group of workers over others," OFCCP Director Patricia A. Shiu said. "I am pleased that Cargill has agreed to put a proactive strategy in place to address this issue through new hiring procedures and in-depth training on combating stereotypes."