By: Michael Lauzon
June 10, 2014
Injection molder and metal fabricator Wisconsin Plastics Inc. has been sued for unlawful firings allegedly based on discrimination.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission launched the suit June 9 in federal court in Green Bay, Wis. EEOC stated a group of Hmong and Hispanic employees was fired because of their national origins. EEOC is seeking lost wages and compensatory and punitive damages for the fired employees and injunctive relief to end discriminatory practices.
EEOC began an investigation after a group of 11 employees complained to the federal agency. EEOC alleged the employees were fired after 10-minute observations of their English language skills, even though such skills were not needed in their jobs. The fired employees got satisfactory ratings on their annual performance evaluations while working with Wisconsin Plastics’ Modern Plastics division, EEOC alleged.
EEOC sued after first trying to resolve the issue without litigation through its statutory conciliation process.
“Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects employees from discrimination based on national origin, which includes the linguistic characteristics of a national origin group,” EEOC stated in a news release.
EEOC associate regional attorney for the Chicago District Jean Kamp said Wisconsin Plastics has 60 days to respond to the suit. After that a judge will set a schedule for discovery and trial.
In the state of Wisconsin punitive damages for a guilty finding of the charges is a maximum of $200,000 per employee affected for companies with fewer than 500 employees.
Wisconsin Plastics officials were not immediately available for comment.
The Green Bay Press Gazette reprinted a statement from the company rebutting the allegations after the company said it learned about the suit through the media.
“The EEOC’s allegations are false and completely without merit,” the press report quoted.
“Wisconsin Plastics is an equal opportunity employer with a highly diverse workforce. The 12 positions affected by the layoffs were from a pool that was comprised of 91 percent of racial and ethnic minorities, including Hmong, Hispanic, African-American and American Indian employees. The layoff decisions at issue in the fall of 2012 were made on the basis of the employees’ overall comparative skills, behaviors and job performance over time. Though the decisions were difficult, they were necessary in order to ensure the ongoing stability of Wisconsin Plastics for the benefit of WPI’s customers, its shareholders, the community and the roughly 275 current company and temporary employees.”
The EEOC suit is in sharp contrast to an employee relations award given to Wisconsin Plastics in 2003. Plastics News reported that year that the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce association honored the company for “employment leadership.” Judges cited Wisconsin Plastics’ efforts to learn the Southeast Asian Hmong language to help communications with employees. The award also cited the firm’s employment of 25 to 30 inmates from the Sanger Powers Correctional Center.
On the careers section of its website, Wisconsin Plastics states it is an equal opportunity employer offering “a highly competitive benefit package including health, dental, vision, flexible spending and long-term disability.” The firm also participates in 401K retirement plans and provides eight paid holidays a year. Wisconsin Plastics currently is advertising openings for production technician, setup technician, welders and fabricators and assembly operator.
Wisconsin Plastics lists injection molding, signage and displays, stamping and painting as key activities. It runs 37 injection presses, ranging up to 1,000 tons of clamping force, in a 120,000-square-foot plant equipped with a tool room. It operates 24 hours a day seven days a week.