Black Applicants File Suit Against Illinois Temp Agency They Say Discriminated Against Them

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Kevin James (left), plaintiff in the discrimination suit against MVP Staffing (right).
Kevin James (left), plaintiff in the discrimination suit against MVP Staffing (right).

A group of African-American men on Tuesday filed a class-action lawsuit against a national staffing company accused of discriminating against Black job applicants in favor of Latino workers.

The alleged discrimination reportedly took place at the Cicero, Illinois, branch of MVP Staffing, where plaintiffs claim company workers used a series of code words to identify applicants of different races, according to the Chicago Tribune. This way, the job placement company could secretly honor the discriminatory wishes of its clients who refused to hire Black temp workers.

For example, the lawsuit states that the term “guapos,” which translates to handsome or pretty boys, was used to refer to Black Americans, suggesting that they didn’t want to get their hands dirty with work. The words “feos” (the ugly ones) and “bilingues” (bilinguals) were used to characterize Latino workers.

The suit also claims that clients would specifically request Latino workers by asking the staffing agency to send them applicants who listened to 107.9 FM, a Spanish-speaking radio station.

“That was the code word for us to only send Mexicans,” former MVP dispatcher Rosa Ceja, 29, told The New York Times.

Ceja said the discriminatory code words were mainly in Spanish because nearly “all of the managers” who didn’t wish to hire Black applicants were Latino. The ex-MVP employee also revealed that those who used the terms “Black” or “Mexican” in company correspondence risked being fired for failing to use the code words.

Pamela Sanchez, another former MVP employee, told the Chicago Tribune she was directly instructed not to send Black workers to employers and to stamp DNR (Do Not Return) on their applications.

MVP Staffing, also known as Personnel Staffing Group, is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, along with clients ARI Packaging, Blommer Chocolate Co., Jet Lithocolor, Lawrence Foods, Mercury Plastics, MPS Chicago, the Penray Cos., Segerdahl Graphics and others in the Chicago area.

Kevin James, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, recalled applying for work through the job placement agency on multiple occasions but only being hired once. He said he waited all day for job assignments at the MVP office only to see the jobs go to Latino workers. The one time he was hired, he said he was subjected to a hostile work environment.

“It just seemed like a lot of tension, like they really didn’t want me to be there,” James said of the packaging company that took him on as a worker. He went on to note that a majority of the MVP Cicero branch staff were “Mexican” and that “the employees were not very welcoming of African-American job applicants.”

One of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, Christopher Williams of the Workers’ Law Office, who has filed discrimination lawsuits against other agencies in the past, said discrimination of this sort is becoming more and more common in the fast-growing temporary-staffing industry. He said the predominantly undocumented immigrant workforce is less likely to stand up for themselves or complain about unfair treatment/wages, making them more desirable to employers looking to hire temp workers.

Like Ceja, Williams recalled seeing loads of Latinos being hand-picked for available work, while Black job applicants were left waiting for hours on end.

“They get up early, they make their way there, they get there on the promise that there might be work for them,” Williams told the Chicago Tribune. “And they watch as it changes from a very mixed room in the morning to mostly African-Americans left in the afternoon.”

A GenForward poll examining young adults’ attitudes toward the U.S. economy published in October of this year uncovered what most African-Americans already knew: Black young adults are more likely to experience race discrimination on the job or while looking for a job. According to Atlanta Black Star, the survey showed that 48 percent of Black adults aged 18-30 experienced discrimination while seeking employment or at their place of employment. African-Americans also reported the highest rates of job-related discrimination.

Williams insisted that there are plenty of temp jobs available for those who are willing to work in the fast-expanding industry, but hiring for those jobs needs to be fair and based on one’s skill set, not their race. Currently, the population of Cicero is overwhelmingly Latin, with a much smaller percentage of African-Americans, he said. In turn, 98 percent of job assignments are given to Latino workers.

“If we can shift the balance, our hope is that the jobs continue to be available to anyone in the community who wants to work,” Williams said.

 

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