LYONS, IL — A company with facilities in Lyons and Addison discriminated against African American job applicants, aided by its main temporary staffing agency, the attorney general said this week.
Mistica Foods and Specialized Staffing have entered settlement agreements with the attorney general’s office. Under the terms, Mistica and Specialized will pay $270,000 and $180,000 in civil penalties, respectively.
At both companies, employees and supervisors must undergo bias training.
Over at least four years, Mistica, a food processor, instructed its temporary staffing agencies not to assign Black workers to its facilities, according to an attorney general’s news release. Specialized, which supplied the majority of Mistica’s workforce, complied with the discriminatory requests, the state alleged.
In a lawsuit, the office contended Mistica’s supervisors made negative comments about the work ethic of African Americans and expressed that the company’s preference was not to hire them.
When Specialized assigned Black workers to Mistica, the company dismissed them without giving a reason, despite a growing need for workers, the state said.
Mistica’s “pervasive policy of discrimination” resulted in a severe under-representation of Black employees at its facilities compared to their prevalence in the relevant job market, according to the state. The number of African Americans assigned to Mistica through Specialized dropped consistently between 2017 and 2020, the state said.
In an interview Friday, Ed Bleka Jr. of Mistica said the allegations of discrimination were untrue. He said a “disgruntled” former staffing agency partner was trying to get out of trouble with the attorney general when it alleged bias at Mistica.
“There has never been any discrimination at Mistica Foods. We have a strict policy against that,” Bleka said.
Asked about why the company settled, Bleka said it was a business decision.
“If we had fought this to the end, we obviously would have won this case,” he said. “We wanted to avoid further litigation expense and business disruption and focus on our clients’ and the public’s needs.”
Specialized’s attorney, Leigh Jeter, said her firm denied allegations of discrimination. She noted the company is minority- and female-owned.
“It has always been an equal opportunity employer,” she said. “It has complied with the law at all times.”
She, too, said the decision to settle was business-related, avoiding the costs of protracted litigation.
In the news release, Attorney General Kwame Raoul said Mistica’s conduct resulted in hundreds of job applicants being denied employment.
“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,” Raoul said.
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