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Hillshire Brands to pay $4 million to settle race bias case


Hillshire Brands Co., formerly known as Sara Lee Corp., has agreed to pay $4 million to settle a race discrimination suit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency said Tuesday.

The EEOC claimed that from August 2001 to November 2011, African-American employees in the former Sara Lee facility in Paris, Texas, were subjected to racist graffiti on the walls of the bathrooms and locker room, the agency said in a statement. Former bakery employees also alleged that during work hours they were berated with racial slurs by supervisors and other white co-workers, and that complaints by the plant workers went unaddressed by management.

The EEOC filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Marshall, Texas, in July alleging race discrimination in the workplace, including race harassment.

“The Commission completed an extensive investigation at the Sara Lee plant, which included conducting interviews with the former bakery workers,” Meaghan L. Shepard, trial attorney for the EEOC’s Dallas district, said in the statement. “EEOC determined racial slurs and graffiti continued at the facility in Paris for years, until the doors finally closed in November 2011.”

Under terms of the settlement, in addition to paying $4 million, the company agreed to implement various preventive approaches regarding discrimination or harassment against any employee on the basis of race and will periodically report incidents or investigations to the EEOC. Hillshire Brands also agreed to engage in remedial measures such as anti-discrimination training and implementation of procedures to prevent and promptly address graffiti issues, according to the statement.

“African-American workers on the Sara Lee bakery production lines in Paris felt embarrassed and intimidated by the graffiti in the bathroom and the racial slurs on the production floor,” Suzanne Anderson, EEOC’s supervisory trial attorney, said in the statement. “Strong corporate policies and quick remedial action protects against this type of workplace discrimination.”

Sara Lee was renamed Hillshire Brands in a 2012 corporate restructuring.

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