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Class Certified in Black Workers’ Staffing Agency Bias Suit

Bloomberg Law

April 1, 2020

Black workers who allege racial bias caused MVP Staffing and client Gold Standard Baking Inc. to largely exclude them from temporary assignments at the bakery’s Chicago-based production facility can pursue the case as a class action, the Northern District of Illinois ruled.

The Cicero, Ill., office of Personnel Staffing Group LLC, which does business as MVP, acted on Gold Standard’s discriminatory preference when it referred disproportionately few black applicants to temporary assignments at the facility, lead plaintiffs James Zollicoffer and Norman Green allege in the 2013 suit. Gold Standard preferred Hispanics, they say.

The ruling appears to be the first time a court has certified class claims alleging systematic racial discrimination against a staffing agency, according to Joseph Sellers of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, who represents the plaintiffs.

Winning approval for a bias class action against a staffing agency requires meeting the same legal threshold that would apply against traditional employers, Sellers said. But there are factual circumstances about those agencies, including how they choose and assign mostly low-wage workers to temporary assignments, that separates them from other employers, Sellers said.

The case against MVP and Gold Standard could be the first in a wave of certified class actions alleging discrimination in the staffing industry, Sellers said. Roughly six other lawsuits against staffing agencies have been filed by plaintiffs’ firms including Cohen Milstein, while several dozen other potential cases are being investigated, he said.

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Statistical and anecdotal evidence backs the workers’ bias claim and established the “uniform employment practice” needed to proceed as a class, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois said Tuesday. Whether the class period covers two or four years depends on the applicable statute of limitations, and the court ordered additional briefing on the issue.

The statistics were compiled by the class’s expert, labor economist Marc Bendick, who found that non-Hispanic African-American applicants were referred to Gold Standard at a rate far below the expected referral rate between 2009 and 2013, and then at a rate that exceeded it in 2014 and 2015, after the lawsuit was filed, the court said.

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Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC represents the class. Korey Richardson LLC and Paul Hastings LLP represent MVP. Hannafan & Hannafan Ltd. and Laner Muchin Ltd. represent Gold Standard Baking.

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