A discrimination suit against a nationwide temp staffing agency marks the second such complaint launched by a Chicago plaintiffs’ employment law firm in recent weeks alleging staffing companies have discriminated against African-American workers in favor of Hispanic laborers.
On Dec. 6, five plaintiffs, identified as Antwoin Hunt, James Zollicoffer, Norman Green, James Lewis and Kevin James, filed suit in Chicago federal court against MVP Staffing, formally known as Personnel Staffing Group LLC, alleging discriminatory hiring practices.
The lawsuit also named as defendants a group of businesses for which Deerfield-based Most Valuable Personnel provided temporary workers. These included Wheeling-based commercial printer Segerdahl Corporation; Mercury Plastics, of Chicago; printer MPS Chicago Inc., which does business as Jet Litho, of Downers Grove; Ari Packaging, of Alsip; Lawrence Foods, of Elk Grove Village; and Chicago-based Blommer Chocolate.
MVP operates staffing offices in 38 states, according to its website, including four offices in Illinois.
According to the lawsuit, the named plaintiffs had all sought employment through MVP’s Cicero office for at least the last four years, but were on several occasions passed over for job assignments in favor of Hispanic workers, because MVP went along with employer requests to send them Hispanic workers, rather than African Americans.
The lawsuit said MVP and their client employers would routinely “use code words such as ‘guapos’ (translated as ‘pretty boys’ – ones who don’t want to do dirty work) to refer to African Americans and ‘feos’ (translated as ‘dirty ones’), ‘bilingues’ (translated as ‘bilinguals’) or ‘los que escuchan a La Ley’ (translated as ‘people who listen to Spanish radio station La Ley’) to refer to Hispanic laborers” and ensure Hispanic workers, and not African Americans, were assigned to work at the companies.
“MVP instructed its Dispatchers and Onsite Representatives to refrain from referring African-American laborers to assignments at many of its client companies,” the lawsuit alleged.
They also accused MVP and its client companies of creating and maintaining “a system to ensure the African-American laborers could be easily terminated.”
To satisfy the demand from client employers for Hispanic temporary workers, the lawsuit said MVP has sent buses and other vehicles to predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods to recruit and transport potential workers. But no such recruitment and transportation efforts have been aimed at African Americans or in predominantly African American neighborhoods, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit asked for the certification of plaintiff classes including potentially thousands of African Americans who have been passed over for work through MVP since December 2012.
The lawsuit demanded back pay and attorney fees from MVP and the named defendant employers, as well as an injunction preventing MVP and the employers from continuing their allegedly discriminatory staffing and job placement practices.
The workers are represented in the action by lawyers Christopher J. Williams and Alvar Ayala, of the Workers’ Law Office P.C., of Chicago, and lawyers Joseph M. Sellers, Shaylyn Cochran, Miriam R. Nemeth of the firm of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, of Washington, D.C.
The MVP lawsuit marked the second such discrimination class action brought this fall by Workers’ Law Office addressing the same issues.
In October, the law firm filed suit on behalf of a group of African American workers who accused Gurnee-based Quality Labor Services LLC and Highland Baking Co., of Northbrook, of also discriminating African American temp workers in favor of similar Hispanic workers.
They also had sought to expand the lawsuit to include other African American temp laborers who had been passed over for job assignments by QLS and Highland since October 2012.