WILLMAR, Minn. – Jennie-O Turkey Store Inc., a unit of Austin, Minnesota-based Hormel Foods, agreed to pay nearly $500,000 in back pay and hire more than 50 women as part of a discrimination lawsuit settlement.

The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) of the US Dept. of Labor accused the company of hiring discrimination. Jennie-O denied any wrongdoing.

“We reiterate our commitment to a discrimination-free workplace for our employees and disagree with the Department of Labor's claims,” the company said in a statement. “That being said, we believe a settlement at this time will avoid further litigation and allow us to move forward with our business.”

A review of hiring practices at the plant conducted by the OFCCP found Jennie-O discriminated against qualified female applicants for laborer positions from February 2009 to February 2010. The department sued the company and filed a consent decree simultaneously to resolve the issue. A judge in the Office of Administrative Law Judges entered an order adopting the consent decree.

Jennie-O agreed to pay back wages totaling $491,861 to female job applicants denied entry-level jobs at the company’s turkey processing plant in Willmar. The company also agreed to hire 53 women out of a pool of applicants who applied for one of the jobs during the period documented in the lawsuit.

“Discrimination can be prevented when employers have non-discriminatory selection procedures in place and make certain that they are followed,” OFCCP Director Patricia A. Shiu said in a statement. “Jennie-O has worked proactively with our agency to resolve the agency’s findings of discrimination and has agreed to train personnel involved in the selection process to ensure that non-discriminatory policies are carried out going forward.”

Jennie-O Turkey Store has received nearly $360 million in federal contracts as a supplier to the US Dept. of Agriculture’s schools and food bank programs.