Increasingly, our economy depends on staffing agencies to recruit and place candidates in jobs at a broad range of employers. Charged with the critical responsibility of identifying, recruiting, and screening candidates, staffing agencies function as the gate keepers for workers’ access to many jobs. At the same time, staffing agencies serve the employers to which they refer candidates for employment by applying the employers’ preferences and criteria for candidates to fill the open jobs. As there are many staffing agencies competing for the same referral business, the pressures are great to implement any and all preferences employers express for candidates that are referred.
A number of leading civil rights and labor experts believe that racial discrimination has become rampant in the temporary staffing industry, where placements are at an all-time high of nearly three millions workers per month (up from 1 million in 1990), according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Investigation into this industry has in fact revealed that some employers, and the staffing agencies recruiting candidates for them, have clandestinely declined qualified African American candidates for vacant jobs.
Starting on December 6, 2016, Cohen Milstein, along with the Workers’ Law Office of Chicago, filed several putative class actions on behalf of African-American workers, against Personnel Staffing Group dba MVP Staffing, which operates over 60 job placement offices in nearly 40 states. The complaints alleges eight counts of race-based discrimination against MVP and seven of its served out of MVP’s office in Cicero, IL, just outside of Chicago—including a plastics manufacturer, an auto-parts maker, a commercial printing and marketing firm, and two large-scale food processors. The thrust of the lawsuits -- MVP complied with a request from these clients not to assign African-American workers as temporary workers.
In all of the cases, plaintiffs detail calculated efforts by MVP to recruit Latino workers over African-Americans through targeted advertising, transportation, and Spanish-only training materials, and accuse hiring supervisors of using code words to differentiate between African-American and Hispanic laborers, conducting criminal background checks on only black workers, and suggesting that African-Americans were less desirable employees. If MVP did assign an African-American, they often were marked “DNR” (Do Not Return) during or at the end of their first shift.
Across three remaining active lawsuits, Plaintiffs allege that at least seven of MVP’s clients—including a plastics manufacturer, an auto-parts maker, a commercial printing and marketing firm, and two large-scale food processors—indicated they did not want African-American workers assigned as temporary workers. In the Vee Pak litigation, Plaintiffs further allege that staffing agencies Staffing Network Holdings, Inc. and Alternative Staffing, d/b/a ASI, just like MVP, complied with an illicit request from client Vee Pak to not assign African-American workers for day-laborer work.
“The allegations in this case demonstrate a clear and disturbing pattern of race-based discrimination, denying low- and middle-income employment opportunities to people because they are African-American,” said Joseph Sellers, Chair of the Civil Rights and Employment Practice at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC and co-counsel for the plaintiffs. “These companies are violating the civil rights of individuals who are trying to earn a decent living wage.”
“It’s difficult to imagine a more blatant example of racism than refusing to hire African-Americans based entirely on the color of their skin,” said Chris Williams, of Workers’ Law Office in Chicago, who is also representing the plaintiffs. “These discriminatory practices are not only illegal but also emotionally and financially devastating to individuals, families, and communities.”
“Discrimination in hiring and placement is egregious and difficult to stop, as employer decisions occur behind closed doors. But this case shows that bias is out in the open in some sectors, where companies use staffing agencies to launder their overt discrimination,” said Catherine Ruckelshaus, General Counsel of the National Employment Law Project. “Companies cannot outsource their discriminatory hiring to staffing companies, and then hide behind those agencies -- both actors must be held accountable in order to stop this illegal and offensive job screening.”
As Chicago laborer Brian Lucas stated about his involvement in these cases, “I just want the opportunity to work; I’m qualified and I need a job. I just want them to pay attention and do better for the African American community.”
If you have information about discrimination of any kind at a staffing agency, please contact the Workers’ Law Office at 312-795-9120 or Cohen Milstein at 1-800-262-8077 (toll free).
Plaintiffs in each of these cases—which are in various stages of litigation—are also represented by Cohen Milstein and the Workers’ Law Office in Chicago.
Lucas, et al. v. Ferrara Candy Company, et al., No. 1:13-cv-01525 (N.D. Ill.)
Plaintiffs filed suit against Remedial Environmental Manpower, Inc. (REM Staffing), Labor Power, Inc., and Ferrara Candy Co.—the maker of lemonheads and several other popular candies—in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in 2013. On November 29, 2016, the Court approved a settlement in this case, Lucas v. Ferrara Candy Co., for $1,500,000.00.
Lucas v. Vee-Pak, Inc., No. 1:2012cv09672 (N.D. Ill.)
On September 19, 2018 the court granted final approval of a class settlement between plaintiffs and Alternative Staffing, Inc. (ASI). Evidence produced as part of the ASI settlement has effectively changed the course of the litigation against the remaining defendants in this race discrimination case brought by African-American laborers and involving novel joint employer issues.
Zollicoffer v. Gold Standard Baking, Inc., No. 13 C 1524 (N.D. Ill.)
On March 31, 2020 the Honorable Sara L. Ellis for the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted class certification to a group of African American workers who filed this race-based employment discrimination class action against Defendants Gold Standard Baking, Inc. (“GSB”) and Personnel Staffing Group, LLC, doing business as Most Valuable Personnel (“MVP”).
Hunt v. Pers. Staffing Grp., LLC, No. 1:16-cv-11086 (N.D. Ill.)
On February 22, 2018, U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Illinois, John J. Tharp, Jr. denied defendants' motions to dismiss in this race-based discrimination employment class action.
On August 4, 2020, Judge Tharp granted final approval to a $588,000 settlement in Hunt v. MVP. Settlement discussions continue with just one other company named in the suit, MPS Chicago.
Pruitt v. Personnel Staffing Group, LLC, No. 1:16-cv-05079 (N.D. Ill.)
Plaintiffs intend to seek certification this year of a class of African-American workers who sought work out of MVP’s Waukegan office, but were not assigned to certain client companies based on their race.