Major temp agency sued for discrimination

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    MANY OF THE discrimination allegations in the lawsuit came out of the MVP Staffing office in Cicero, but that operation has since been taken over by another temp agency Elite Staffing, which settled a discrimination lawsuit last year. (Photo by Keith Chambers)

    By Keith Chambers, Chicago Crusader

    Several Black workers filed a class-action lawsuit against MVP Staffing and its clients, accusing them of discriminating against Black temp workers in favor of Hispanic workers.

    There are details in a legal case that may cost MVP and their clients millions of dollars. It may also be the biggest case where one of the country’s largest temp agencies has been accused of systematic discrimination against Black workers.

    For years, MVP prospered as it helped its clients make millions of dollars off the backs of low-wage temp workers in Chicago and across the country. Most of the workers in Chicago are believed to be Hispanic. Meanwhile, Black workers at temp agencies have lagged behind in achieving similar success.

    Seeking damages, Black workers in Chicago filed a lawsuit against MVP on Dec. 5 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The complaint alleges that MVP dispatchers and management honored their clients’ request to not send the Black workers by using special discriminatory codes when temp assignments were given out.

    The complaint is the latest in a string of discrimination lawsuits against temp agencies in Chicago and across the country. Their alleged discriminatory practices were detailed in a story by the Chicago Crusader last November. Seeking to avoid further damages from negative publicity, many of these temp agencies have settled out of court.

    The plaintiffs in the latest lawsuit include Antwoin Hunt, James Zollicoffer, Norman Green, James Lewis, and Kevin James.

    The lawsuits request certification for class-action status.

    The plaintiffs are represented by a team of lawyers, including Chicago Attorney Christopher Williams, who has represented individuals who have sued other temp agencies in Chicago for alleged discrimination.

    “This is going on across the country,” Williams told the Crusader. “A lot of this is driven by the almighty dollar. MVP might as well put up a sign that says ‘Blacks need not apply.’”

    In addition to MVP, the lawsuit also names other Chicago companies as defendants, including the Segerdahl Group, Mercury Plastics, Inc., Jet Lithocolor, The Penray Companies Inc., WestRock Consumer Packaging Group, AGI Media Lawrence Foods Inc., and the Blommer Chocolate Company. Personnel Staffing, which does business as MVP Staffing, was also named in the complaint.

    The lawsuit accuses MVP of eight counts of discrimination and said the practice has damaged Black workers. Many of the incidents allegedly occurred out of MVP’s branch office, 5637 Roosevelt Road, in Cicero, where dispatchers were constantly pressured to classify Black workers as “DNR,” which is the code for “Do Not Return.”

    As Blacks waited in the office for assignments, they watched Hispanic workers come and go with job assignments, according to the complaint.

    The lawsuit also alleges that Black workers were called “guapos,” which means pretty boys who didn’t want to do dirty work. Hispanic workers, whom many were allegedly illegal immigrants, were favored because they complained less and were easily exploited.

    A former dispatcher at MVP, Rosa Ceja, 29, said most of the codes were used to discriminate were in Spanish because all of the managers at the Cicero office who refused to hire Blacks were Hispanic.

    Ceja said MVP’s corporate clients would often try to conceal their request by telling a MVP dispatcher that they wanted to hire employees who listened to Chicago’s Spanish-language radio station, WLEY 107.9 FM.

    One of the Black plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Antwoin Hunt, worked at Gold Standard Bakery, a large factory in Chicago in 2014, where he said Hispanic workers were usually offered full-time employment positions far more often than their counterparts.

    After six months Hunt’s assignment was terminated after his supervisor complained that he was taking too many breaks, which he disputed. Hunt said he was never offered full-time employment.

    “They’re (MVP) racist people,” Hunt told the Crusader.

    The latest lawsuit filed against MVP may be the biggest one yet, and thousands of Blacks could win damages for being alleged victims. The case has led the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to subpoena thousands of documents that contain employment data and background information on MVP’s thousands of temp workers.

    On Dec. 5, U.S. Judge Matthew F. Kennelly granted the EEOC’s request, despite objections from MVP’s attorneys.

    Like in past cases, if the EEOC investigation agrees with the complaint, the agency can join the lawsuit and impose heavy fines against MVP and its clients.

    Efforts to reach MVP and its clients on Wednesday were unsuccessful. The MVP branch office in Cicero was not yet open for business during a visit by a Crusader reporter on Wednesday.

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