Labor Dept.: Gerber Settles Hiring Case at Arkansas Plant

August 20, 2009

Gerber Products Co. in Fort Smith, Ark., will pay $900,000 to settle accusations of hiring practices that discriminated against women and minority-group applicants, the U.S. Department of Labor said.

The agreement covers 1,912 rejected minority and female applicants for jobs at Gerber, the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs said in a news release. Plant manager Patrick Murray did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Gerber makes a variety of baby foods at the plant, which employs between 600 and 650 people. Gerber USA, based in Florham Park, N.J., is a subsidiary of Swiss food conglomerate Nestle SA.

The agreement settles the Labor Department’s allegations that Gerber engaged in hiring discrimination against minority and female applicants. According to a news release from the Labor Department, federal officials found that Gerber was using pre-employment tests that disadvantaged minorities, without sufficient evidence of the validity of the tests.

Elizabeth Todd, spokeswoman for the Labor Department at Dallas, said Gerber was screening prospective employees with the Test of Adult Basic Education, or TABE. Todd said it was an aptitude test with pass-or-fail results that “significantly impacted minorities.”

Todd said she didn’t know how the discrimination against women alleged in the complaint was manifested in Gerber’s hiring practices.

Gerber will not only pay back pay and interest, but will provide 61 entry-level positions, 11 of which have already been filled, the news release said.

The company has also agreed to self-monitoring measures to ensure all hiring practices fully comply with the law and immediately correct any discriminatory practice, federal officials said in the statement.

“This settlement … should put all federal contractors on notice that the Labor Department is serious about eliminating systemic discrimination,” Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis said in the release.

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