By JEANNIE NUSS, Associated Press
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- One of the nation's largest meatpackers systematically discriminated against more than 4,000 qualified applicants who sought entry-level jobs at a turkey processing plant in Arkansas, the U.S. Labor Department said Tuesday.
Women were less likely to be hired and Asian and Pacific Islanders were unfairly favored over applicants of other races at Cargill Meat Solutions' plant in Springdale, Ark., federal officials said in the complaint filed by the Labor Department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.
Cargill Meat Solutions is a subsidiary of Minneapolis-based Cargill, Inc.
Federal officials want to cancel Cargill's existing government contracts and prevent future contracts until the company stops what they call discriminatory practices.
Cargill currently holds contracts worth more than $550 million with the U.S. Department of Defense.
"This is an unfortunate case in which thousands of qualified workers were denied the opportunity to compete fairly for jobs in a tough economy," the director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs said in a statement.
Patricia A. Shiu added that the Labor Department is prepared to use every tool at its disposal, including canceling a company's federal contracts, to achieve equal opportunity for workers.
Cargill spokesman Mike Martin said the company is disappointed by the allegations and minorities make up 84 percent of the 1,300 people employed at the plant in Springdale, Ark.
He said it appears the accusation is 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. "This allegation is this is based upon statistical analysis, not upon any hiring decisions that Cargill made."
Associated Press writer Kelly P. Kissel contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)