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EEOC charges food manufacturer with racial bias at Sara Lee plant


The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed suit against Hillshire Brands Co., charging it with racial discrimination on behalf of a class of about 70 black workers who had worked in its now-closed Paris, Texas plant.

The agency said in a statement Monday that workers at the plant operated by Chicago-based Hillshire had been subjected to racial graffiti including racial epithets, drawings and other racial symbols scrawled on the bathroom walls of the Sara Lee plant in Paris.

The EEOC alleges also that some of the black employees were called racial slurs by a supervisor and other white co-workers, and that its investigation found that company officials had ignored the employees’ complaints about unfair treatment at the plant.

Hillshire is being charged with violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. According to court papers, the plant was closed in November 2011. The agency is seeking monetary damages as well as injunctive relief.

“Racial harassment unfortunately remains a persistent problem in the 21st century, more than 50 years after passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964,” said EEOC Dallas Regional Attorney Robert A. Canino, in a statement.

“The bad seeds of racial animus planted in the workplace cannot be allowed to spread over time and to choke out mutual respect on the job. Racism must be uprooted by decisive action to cultivate equal opportunity.”

The company said in a statement, “We take these allegations seriously. While we cannot speak to the specific allegations made by these plaintiffs, we can tell you that Paris, Texas team members were represented by a union, and each team member was required to participate in anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training to understand plant policies prohibiting any kind of unlawful harassment and discrimination under applicable laws.”

Earlier, this year, a South Carolina metal finishing plant agreed to pay $40,000 to settle an EEOC case in which it was charged with subjecting a black worker to racial discrimination, then firing him after he complained.

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