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U.S. Labor Department alleges bias by Cargill.

Labor officials have moved to cut off federal contracts held by one of the nation's largest meatpackers, saying it discriminated against women and non-Asians.

The U.S. Labor Department claims Cargill Meat Solutions discriminated against more than 4,000 qualified people who applied for entry-level jobs at the company's plant in Springdale, with women less likely to be hired and Asians and Pacific Islanders unfairly favored over other races.

Federal officials said Tuesday they want to cancel Cargill's existing government contracts and prevent future contracts until the company stops what they call discriminatory practices. Cargill Meat Solutions currently holds contracts worth more than $550 million with the U.S. Department of Defense, labor officials said. "This is an unfortunate case in which thousands of qualified workers were denied the opportunity to compete fairly for jobs in a tough economy," Patricia A. Shiu, director of the department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, said in a statement. Shiu said the office was prepared to use every tool at its disposal, including canceling federal contracts, to achieve equal opportunity for workers.

Cargill Meat Solutions, a subsidiary of Minneapolis-based Cargill Inc., blamed the problem on "documentation," saying there wasn't a satisfactory record of why it didn't hire certain candidates.

Cargill spokesman Mike Martin said minorities make up 84 percent of the 1,300 people employed at the Springdale plant and the accusation appears to be based on a "statistical analysis" of the job market rather than a review of specific applicants. "This is a situation more about documentation than it is about discrimination," Martin said.

In addition to the allegations of discrimination against women and non-Asians, labor officials pointed to problems with Cargill's employment records in a complaint filed earlier this month with the Office of Administrative Law Judges. The complaint said Cargill failed to collect and maintain appropriate personnel and employment records.

Labor officials said the complaint came after they weren't able to secure a fair resolution from Cargill that promised to pay back wages and interest to the rejected job applicants and extend job offers to at least 167 of them.

-- The Associated Press
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Title Annotation:Legal
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Dec 5, 2011
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