Tyson settles a hiring discrimination lawsuit

Playing chicken. Tyson settled a hiring discrimination case with the the United States Department of Labor (USDOL) this week to the tune of $1.6 million, reports WATTAgNet. The DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) performed a statistical analysis of hiring practices at six of the company’s plants in Arkansas, Texas, and New Mexico. It found that, at various times throughout the period of 2007 to 2010, Tyson had discriminated against women, men, whites, and minorities. The settlement is not an admission of liability on the part of Tyson, and the case was not the result of specific complaints against the company—rather, it stemmed from an OFCCP analysis of data collected during scheduled audits. The payments will be distributed to 5,716 applicants Tyson rejected for labor jobs and 474 of the people affected will receive job offers as positions come available.

The settlement comes just seven months after a class-action suit filed by employees at an Iowa plant against Tyson went all the way to the Supreme Court.

Investigating several facilities owned by the same company is a priority for the OFCCP, Bloomberg BNA reports, adding that this is the fifth time Tyson has settled with the OFCCP for alleged labor discrimination in the last decade. If the office finds discriminatory practices at one location owned by a large company, it uses an “enterprise enforcement approach” to investigate other facilities owned by the same corporation. This process is meant to identify systemic discrimination in the workplace. OFCCP has the authority to audit Tyson because the company holds about $15 million in contracts with USDA.

The settlement comes just seven months after a class-action suit filed by employees at an Iowa plant against Tyson went all the way to the Supreme Court. In that case, thousands of workers banded together to recover overtime pay. The cases are related: In both instances, the decision came down to Tyson versus the numbers. Tyson could’ve fought this month’s allegations had it kept proper documentation proving its hiring decisions were non-discriminatory, but it didn’t have the paperwork to counter the OFCCP’s statistics-based analysis.

Similarly, the Iowa case involved workers seeking compensation for time spent putting on and removing safety gear before using dangerous equipment. In that case, Tyson did not keep records of employee time spent off the clock. The plaintiffs relied on an expert’s statistical analysis of videotape evidence documenting the time employees spent getting ready. The Supreme Court ruled in a 6-2 decision that in the absence of compelling counter-documentation from Tyson, the workers were owed $6 million in back pay. File this one alongside the ongoing poultry collusion lawsuit under “the high cost of cheap chicken.” – Claire Brown

H. Claire Brown is a senior staff writer for The Counter. Her work has also appeared in The Atlantic, The Guardian, and The Intercept and has won awards from the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, the New York Press Club, the Newswomen's Club of New York, and others. A North Carolina native, she now lives in Brooklyn.