A group of companies facing racial discrimination lawsuits for allegedly passing over black workers in favor of Hispanic workers when hiring temporary workers, failed in their attempt to have the complaints dismissed.

U.S. District Judge John J. Tharp Jr. threw out a motion to dismiss the class action lawsuit filed by five African-American men against employment firm MVP Staffing and six of its client companies. The companies claimed the plaintiffs lacked standing and failed to state a claim under the federal Civil Rights Act.

Shaylyn Cochran
Shaylyn Cochran | Cohen Milstein

In December of 2016, the plaintiffs filed suit against MVP, which operates in 38 states including Illinois, and its clients Segerdahl Corporation, Mercury Plastics, MPS Chicago, Ari Packaging, Lawrence Foods and Blommer Chocolate. In their lawsuit, the men claimed MVP repeatedly hired Hispanic workers instead of African Americans and said the six clients named in the suit had given MVP explicit instructions not to send African-American workers to fill their openings.

To back up their claims, the men alleged Hispanic workers did not wait as long in the MVP offices for assignments, that MVP sent buses to predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods to transport workers but offered no similar transportation in predominantly African-American neighborhoods, and that job openings were primarily publicized via Spanish-language media. Former dispatchers, drivers and other employees of MVP also submitted statements saying they had been instructed by the staffing agency not to send African-American workers to the named companies.

In moving to dismiss, the companies claim the Civil Rights Act requires the plaintiffs either had or sought a contract with the defendant. In his opinion, Tharp wrote that the defendants had misconstrued case law.

“The case requires the plaintiff to have (or be pursuing) a contractual interest, but that contractual interest need not be with the defendant,” he wrote. “It may rest on discriminatory interference by the defendant with the plaintiff’s contractual relationship with a third party.”

Four of the five plaintiffs had received work assignments from MVP, the court wrote, though none at the named companies. The fifth plaintiff never received any work assignments, but he followed the steps required to join the agency’s rolls of available workers. By allegedly asking MVP not to assign African Americans to their job openings, the named companies interfered with the plaintiffs’ contractual relationship with the staffing agency, Tharp wrote.

He also dismissed the companies’ argument that no formal contracts existed between the workers and the staffing agency. The actions the men took in seeking employment from MVP is all that is needed to establish a claim under the law, the judge wrote.

“Whether premised on a theory of pre-contract formation or post-contract enforcement, the complaint more than adequately alleges that the plaintiffs’ efforts to obtain work at the defendant client companies were thwarted by discriminatory practices,” he wrote.

The companies also attempted to dismiss claims more than two years old, arguing such claims relating to pre-contract formation conduct have a two-year statute of limitations. The plaintiffs countered that their claims actually relate to post-contract formation conduct, which are subject to a four-year statute of limitations. Tharp dismissed the defendants’ motion, declaring such details as when exactly the plaintiffs entered into their contract with MVP cannot be resolved at this stage of the proceedings.

The case is set for a status hearing on April 18.

Plaintiffs are represented in the case by attorneys Christopher J. Williams and Alvar Ayala, of the Workers' Law Office P.C., of Chicago, and Shaylyn Capri Cochran, Joseph M Sellers and Miriam Rose Nemeth, of the firm of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, of Washington, D.C.

Defendants are represented by attorneys with the firms of Holland & Knight LLC; Korey Richardson LLC; Seyfarth Shaw LLP;  Laner Muchin Ltd.; Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart P.C.; and Vedder Price P.C., all of Chicago.

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Holland & Knight Seyfarth Shaw, LLP U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Vedder Price PC Workers' Law Office PC

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John J. Tharp Jr.

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