Gerber to pay $900,000 settlement for discriminatory hiring practices

Gerber Products Company in Fort Smith, Ark. will pay $900,000 in a hiring discrimination suit involving 1,912 minority and female applicants rejected for entry-level positions, according to an announcement from the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).

From the announcement:

During a scheduled compliance evaluation of Gerber Products in Fort Smith, OFCCP investigators found the hiring disparity was in part caused by inconsistent selection procedures for entry-level positions. Additionally, OFCCP found that Gerber used pre-employment tests that negatively impacted minority applicants and determined that there was insufficient evidence of validity to support Gerber's use of the test. Gerber has discontinued its use of the test in the hiring process for entry-level positions.

The test that Gerber used was the TABE, or Test of Adult Basic Education – a test that is primarily used by adult education centers to evaluate a student’s reading and math skills. Elizabeth Todd, spokeswoman for the Labor Department at Dallas, said the aptitude test, with its pass-or-fail results, “significantly impacted minorities.”

In addition to paying $900,000 in back pay and interest to the applicants, Gerber will:

  • Provide 61 entry-level positions (11 of whom have already been hired)
  • Undertake extensive self-monitoring measures to ensure they fully comply with the law when hiring, and promptly correct any discriminatory practices
  • Comply with Executive Order 11246 recordkeeping requirements

Employers can learn a few lessons from this case, most notably that the OFCCP, which is “responsible for ensuring that contractors doing business with the Federal government do not discriminate and take affirmative action”, can be a strict enforcer of employment discrimination laws. The agency monitors federal contractors to ensure they provide equal employment opportunities without regard to race, gender, color, religion, national origin, disability or veterans’ status.

Further, because recipients of federal funds must adhere to specific information reporting and auditing requirements, their hiring practices can fall under even tighter scrutiny with the OFCCP than with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Proper training for your hiring managers is essential, including a careful review of the tests and practices used to screen and select applicants for hiring.

“This settlement … should put all federal contractors on notice that the Labor Department is serious about eliminating systemic discrimination,” said Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis.

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