Wisconsin Plastics Inc. denies it did anything wrong, but has agreed to pay $475,000 to settle a discrimination lawsuit launched by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
EEOC announced the agreement May 26. The alleged discrimination occurred in the fall of 2012 when Wisconsin Plastics allegedly fired workers because they lacked English skills. In May 2016 a judge decided the employees did not need to speak English to do their jobs. In a 2014 statement, Wisconsin Plastics said it let the workers go on the basis of "overall comparative skills, behaviors and job performance over time."
The entire $475,000 settlement is for back pay for affected workers, an EEOC spokesman told Plastics News. Seventeen employees of Hmong ethnic background and two Hispanic employees are slated to receive the funds. EEOC initially also pondered seeking punitive damages.
Wisconsin Plastics is an injection molder and metal fabricator based in Ashwaubenon, Wis., near Green Bay.
"After more than four years of defending ourselves in legal proceedings, at extensive cost — in terms of both money and distraction — we've determined it's necessary to settle this case," Wisconsin Plastics said in a June 1 statement.
"The simple truth is, even though we did nothing illegal or inappropriate, the EEOC has unlimited time and resources. [Wisconsin Plastics] does not."
EEOC said Wisconsin Plastics' actions violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects employees from discrimination based on national origin, including discrimination based on the linguistic characteristics of a national origin group. The agency filed suit in U.S. District Court in Green Bay in June 2014 when the parties could not agree on a pre-litigation settlement.
"We appreciate Wisconsin Plastics' willingness to work together with us to settle this case," stated EEOC Chicago Regional Attorney Gregory Gochanour, in a news release.
"Going forward, we are confident that the company will offer equal employment opportunities to Hmong and Hispanic applicants."
Hmong are an ethnic group in China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.
Other conditions of the settlement are: posting notices of the settlement; reporting hires, terminations and national origin discrimination complaints periodically to EEOC; and training managers and employees regarding employer obligations and the rights of employees under Title VII. As well, Wisconsin Plastics is prohibited from future discrimination or retaliation.
Wisconsin Plastics stated that it "has reluctantly concluded that the amount of time and money it would take to continue the fight in federal court is not in the best interests of [Wisconsin Plastics], our more-than 150 employees, or our customers."
"[Wisconsin Plastics] is proud to have a culturally diverse workforce. In fact, although only about 15 percent of the citizens of Green Bay are members of various minority groups, nearly 50 percent of [Wisconsin Plastics'] production and assembly employees are members of minority groups."
Wisconsin Plastics was honored in 2003 by the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce association for "employment leadership" for its efforts to learn the Hmong language and for hiring inmates from the Sanger Powers Correctional Center.