7th Circuit reinstates Ford discriminatory hiring class-action

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Ford Motor Co. and other defendants must face a class-action lawsuit alleging discriminatory hiring practices at a Chicago-area assembly plant. Plaintiffs convinced a federal appeals court to let proceed their claims that hiring practices at the plant could negatively impact Hispanic workers in northwestern Indiana and elsewhere hoping to land a job there.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday partially reversed judgment in favor of the automaker handed down in lower-court rulings by the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.

Martin Chaidez is the name plaintiff among seven who sued Ford after they applied but were not hired as line workers at Ford’s Chicago Assembly plant near Harvey, Illinois. The plaintiffs “allege a racially discriminatory hiring scheme that has resulted in a lack of Hispanic and Latino line workers” at the plant, Senior Judge Daniel Manion wrote for the panel in Martin Chaidez, et al. v. Ford Motor Co., et al., 18-2753.

The workers specifically allege Allan Millender, a black Ford employee and chairman of the United Auto Workers local for the plant, and unknown Ford workers conspired in multiple ways to deny employment to the Hispanic and Latino workers. They allege the plaintiffs were discriminated against by the pre-employment basic skills test; that Hispanic and Latino workers who pass the test were “stalled in some other way”; that Hispanics and Latinos considered for employment are rarely, if ever, hired; and that several non-Hispanic and Latino workers were hired without taking the basic skills test.

The plaintiffs each received a right-to-sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in January 2017, after which a suit was filed and certified as a class-action. The suit asserts, among other things, that at the Harvey plant, “Ford’s hiring process results in an almost exclusively black workforce.” Plaintiffs noted this does not reflect demographics in the Chicago region — particularly in Hammond, where the suit says 34 percent of the population is Hispanic.

The Illinois district court dismissed the complaint on grounds that the plaintiffs had not exhausted administrative remedies, but the 7th Circuit reversed in part.

“We note that although the discriminatory conspiracy described in Count I is quite complex, Count II’s claim is more straightforward. It alleges Ford’s pre-employment testing process has created a racially disproportionate workforce and a dearth of Hispanic or Latino workers. Count II alleges the racial makeup of Ford’s workforce ‘is not consistent with the racial demographics of the areas surrounding the Ford plant.’ It alleges Ford’s workforce is primarily black and lacks more than even a small percentage of Hispanic and Latino workers. It identifies the pre-employment testing process as the employment practice that has resulted in this disproportionate lack of Hispanic and Latino line workers. The plaintiffs also attached as exhibits to their complaint several photographs of the most recent classes of new hires at the Chicago plant as support for their factual allegations regarding the racial makeup of Ford’s workforce,” Manion wrote.

“Ford may present contrary evidence at the summary judgment stage or at trial to show there is no suspect racial disparity, and the plaintiffs, for their part, will need to utilize the discovery process to support their allegations with statistical and comparative evidence. … Ford may also defeat the

plaintiffs’ claim by demonstrating the pre-employment testing process is ‘job-related and consistent with business necessity.’ … But the plaintiffs’ ‘basic allegations’ regarding the disparity between the racial makeup of Ford’s workforce and the surrounding area are sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss.”

The panel therefore affirmed the dismissal of Count I, but modified the dismissal to be without prejudice, while also vacating the dismissal of Count II and remanding for proceedings.

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