A $1.5 million settlement of a 2013 lawsuit brought against Ferrara Candy Company and two area temporary staffing agencies was announced Dec. 4 in Northern Illinois District Court.
The lawsuit was brought on behalf of African American workers who alleged discriminatory hiring practices by two temporary staffing firms, based on Ferrara’s request to hire employees. The suit claimed that African American workers were regularly denied work by the staffing companies in favor of hiring Latino workers.
According to the workers’ attorney, Chris Williams of Workers’ Law Office, Ferrara Candy Company agreed to pay $1 million. Two temporary staffing agencies — Labor Power and Forest Park-based Remedial Environmental Manpower (REM) — also agreed to pay $450,000 and $50,000 respectively. All three companies, according to the settlement agreement, admit no wrongdoing.
Oakbrook Terrace-based Ferrara Candy Company — makers of Lemonheads, Boston Baked Beans and Atomic Fireballs — declined to comment on the settlement but released a statement in which the company said it treats all employees and prospective employees with fairness, equality and respect.
“We remain focused on continuing to produce great products that our customers love thanks to some of the most talented employees in the industry, while being a good partner to our local communities,” the statement from Ferrara read.
Since the lawsuit was filed, Labor Power has disbanded, according to Williams. Messages left seeking comment from REM’s office in Forest Park were not returned.
Elce Redmond, a community organizer with the South Austin Coalition Community Council (SACCC), said he first heard allegations of discrimination in 2011 from two workers who were passed over for work at Ferrara by the staffing agencies.
“As a community organization, we hold meetings for people in the community to express issues and concerns,” Redmond said of his organization’s regular “Know Your Rights” events.
At one such meeting, Redmond said, Workers’ Law Office attorney Chris Williams listened to workers’ stories alleging hiring discrimination at Ferrara and eventually filed charges on their behalf in May 2012 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The workers were issued a notice-of-right-to-sue letter and the suit was brought in 2013.
Redmond also helped organize a 2014 protest outside Ferrara Candy Company’s facilities in Forest Park. Protests were also held in Oakbrook Terrace at Ferrara’s headquarters.
“It’s been a long arduous journey for eventual justice,” Redmond said of the settlement.
According to Williams, an estimated 1,100 workers will be eligible for funds from the settlement.
Speaking generally about the temporary staffing industry for low-skilled workers, Williams said allegations of discriminatory hiring are widespread.
“I’ve seen an almost wholesale exclusion of African Americans from jobs supplied by temporary staffing agencies,” he said, adding that the increase in companies using temporary staffing agencies to fill low-skilled positions in recent years has made the discrimination more pervasive.
Redmond said he hopes the settlement will encourage other companies using temporary staffing agencies to more closely examine how they are hiring. His organization’s main goal, he said, was to protect workers and get people into full-time, not temporary, jobs.
“Within the industry, it’s happening every day,” Redmond said. “We want people to be judged on their ability to do a job.”
Speaking generally, he said the temporary staffing industry’s preference for Latino workers to fill low-skilled jobs allows them to exploit workers’ immigration status, allowing agencies and companies to threaten workers who speak out about wage theft, discrimination and job safety.
Ferrara Candy Company has reached out to SACCC, Redmond said, and is working with the organization to come up with affirmative actions to prevent discrimination in their hiring process.
“We’ve been sitting down with Ferrara [representatives] who will set up a structure to put in place [checks] to prevent discrimination going forward.
“But what I’d like to see as well is more permanent workers being hired — not just temporary workers. People in the community want jobs that are safe and pay a living wage.”