CHICAGO – The Illinois Attorney General’s Office reached consent decrees with meat processor Mistica Foods and Specialized Staffing to settle a lawsuit alleging the companies discriminated against Black job applicants.
Mistica is a meat processing company with facilities in Addison and Lyons, Ill. The company hires workers indirectly through temporary staffing agencies, including Specialized, an Illinois-based temporary staffing agency. Mistica supplies beef, poultry, pork, and other animal products to a variety of clients, including through contracts with the US Department of Agriculture and the Department of Defense.
Under the terms of the consent decree, Mistica will pay $270,000 in civil penalties and Specialized will pay $180,000.
Additionally, the consent decrees will require both Mistica and Specialized to take steps to increase the number of Black employees assigned to Mistica. For example, Mistica and Specialized must participate in career fairs at predominantly Black communities and advertise job openings on radio stations with predominantly Black listeners.
Mistica and Specialized are also required to follow record-keeping practices designed to track the race of workers assigned to Mistica, as well as the applicants that Specialized considers for assignment to Mistica. In addition, Mistica has agreed to do business only with staffing agencies that follow those record-keeping practices.
Mistica and Specialized are also obligated to follow strict reporting requirements for the duration of the consent decrees that will allow the Attorney General’s Office to monitor the companies’ compliance. Finally, employees and supervisors at both companies will be required to undergo bias trainings.
“Using temporary staffing agencies to engage in race-based discrimination unfairly keeps entire communities out of the labor market and denies them the opportunity earn a fair wage,” said Kwame Raoul, state Attorney General. “I am committed to taking action to stop pervasive discrimination wherever we find it, because Illinois workers should have equal opportunities for employment regardless of race, sex, or other protected grounds — particularly at a time when many residents are unemployed or underemployed as a result of the pandemic.”
The lawsuit, which was filed on Oct. 14, 2021, in the Cook County Circuit Court, alleges that over the course of at least four years, Mistica has instructed its temporary staffing agencies not to assign Black workers to the company’s processing plants and that Specialized Staffing, which supplied the majority of Mistica’s workforce, has complied with these discriminatory requests.
The complaint also alleges that supervisors at Mistica made negative comments about the work ethic of Black individuals.
“Clemente Hernandez, Mistica’s plant manager, and other Mistica supervisors complained when staffing agencies, including Specialized, in an effort to meet Mistica’s growing demand for laborers, sometimes assigned African-American laborers,” according to the complaint. “In such instances when African-American laborers were assigned, Mr. Hernandez would complain loudly asking why Specialized, or other agencies, had assigned ‘those people.’”
Workers that complained about the company’s work environment were subject to retaliation, according to the court document.
“The discriminatory treatment by Mistica resulted in an intimidating and hostile working environment for those African-American laborers assigned to Mistica,” the document said. “African-American laborers who complained about discriminatory treatment by Mistica supervisors were asked not to return to Mistica facilities. Thus, the culture at Mistica facilities was such that if African-American laborers raised issues with Mistica supervisors, this marked the end of their work at Mistica and possibly the end of their employment with their respective staffing agency for the foreseeable future.
“Mistica and Specialized were well aware of the discriminatory hostile work environment created by its managers, supervisors, and other laborers against African-American laborers,” the complaint continued. “Through their actions, Mistica and Specialized not only permitted the hostile work environment to persist but actively fostered it.”
On any given day, according to the complaint, Mistica employs anywhere from 100 to more than 300 individuals to work at the company’s facilities in Illinois.