The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is accusing Pretium Packaging LLC of discrimination for not hiring female machine operators at its Leipsic, Ohio, blow molding plant.
EEOC said in a Sept. 28 news release that it filed a federal civil lawsuit against Pretium, alleging that the Leipsic facility "maintained a discriminatory practice" and did not hire women for operator positions for more than 20 years. EEOC said the discrimination started before Pretium acquired the facility from Patrick Products Inc. in 2017 but continued for at least three years after.
"Female applicants were more qualified than some of the males this employer chose to promote or hire," said Miles Uhlar, an EEOC attorney. "Female applicants were not selected because the employer viewed the machine operator position as a 'man's job.' The EEOC will continue to combat outdated sex-based stereotypes in the workplace."
St. Louis-based Pretium disputed the EEOC charges.
"Pretium Packaging disagrees with the allegations brought forth by the EEOC and its characterization of our employment practices," CEO Paul Kayser said in a statement. "We are committed to hiring and promoting qualified individuals regardless of sex or any other status protected by applicable law. Pretium is dedicated to equal opportunity employment, and we look forward to addressing these allegations with the EEOC."
In the lawsuit, which was filed Sept. 27 in U.S. District Court in Toledo, EEOC said discriminatory policies toward women in operator jobs began under Patrick Products in 1999.
According to the suit, EEOC said that from early 2017 until at least January 2020, when a female employee filed a discrimination complaint, the factory did not hire any women as machine operators. At that time, however, more than half of the packers who worked at the plant were women, EEOC said.
The agency said that no women packers were promoted to machine operator while at least nine male packers were promoted in that period from early 2017 to January 2020.
As well, 19 men were hired during that time from outside the company to work as machine operators, the agency said.
In those three years, EEOC said Pretium did not interview women applicants.
"Female employees who expressed interest in the machine operator position were deterred from applying for the position and/or told they could not apply because [Pretium] did not employ female operators," the lawsuit says.
At times, the agency said, the company hired men as machine operators who had just finished school.
"Defendant did not require applicants to have prior machine-operating experience and defendant sought to hire males right out of school and train them," it said.
The government named one employee in the lawsuit, Jonelle Tooman, who the EEOC said worked as a packer from 2008 to 2013 and was rehired in 2016. EEOC said it was suing both on Tooman's behalf and for other female applicants. Tooman applied for a machine operator position at least three times between May 2019 and January 2020, the lawsuit said.
Patrick Products had similar policies when it owned the factory, the EEOC said.
"There were no female machine operators at the Leipsic, Ohio, location between 1999 and 2017," the lawsuit said. "Between 1999 and 2017, female employees who expressed interest in being promoted to the machine operator position were told they could not apply because female operators were not permitted."
The EEOC is seeking back pay and compensatory and punitive damages for qualified women who applied for or were deterred from applying for the machine operator jobs, and as well as steps to prevent future discrimination. It also accused Pretium of not keeping proper records around hiring, promotion and applications for machine operator jobs.
EEOC said it tried to reach a settlement with the company before filing its lawsuit, inviting the company in a March 15 letter to negotiate. It said it decided on June 30 it could not reach an agreement.
While those negotiations were apparently ongoing, Pretium wrote on its company blog in May about efforts to close the gender gap in its workforce. The blog said the company was highlighting a female plant manager at its Hillsborough, N.J., factory and it quoted another Pretium executive saying that it wants to promote women.
"Pretium is a workplace that focuses on gender balance, and this has enabled us to achieve [a] high level of female representation," the blog quoted Lisa Huett, director of sustainability, as saying.
The blog said 43.7 percent of Pretium's workers are women, which it said was above the industry standard of 32 percent.
The company is one of North America's largest blow molding firms, ranking No. 7 in the most recent Plastics News list, published late last year.
It had an estimated $700 million in blow molding sales in North America in 2020, with 27 plants and 2,700 employees.
Pretium Packaging disagrees with the allegations brought forth by the EEOC and its characterization of our employment practices. We are committed to hiring and promoting qualified individuals regardless of sex or any other status protected by applicable law. Pretium is dedicated to equal opportunity employment, and we look forward to addressing these allegations with the EEOC."