A class action discrimination lawsuit was filed against Johnson & Johnson supplier Vee Pak Inc. yesterday at Chicago’s Dirksen Federal Building.
The lawsuit, filed by the Worker’s Law Office, alleges Vee Pak, Inc., a Hodgkins-based company that bottles and distributes products for Johnson & Johnson, has repeatedly denied qualified African American applicants the opportunity to work or often even apply for work.
Five African American plaintiffs, backed by the Austin-based Coalition Against Segregation of Temporary Employees (CASTE), allege Vee Pak employs majority non-African American, primarily Hispanic, laborers, either directly or through a staffing agency. Some of Vee Pak’s Chicago-based staffing agencies include Staffing Network, MVP Workforce Solutions and Alternative Staffing, Inc.
“Every time I went to Vee Pak they gave me excuses and I couldn’t get work,” said Aronzo Davis, 41, one of the lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Unemployed for more than two years, Davis said he and other African American men were rejected from Vee Pak and its staffing agencies on at least four different occasions, while Hispanic and other non-African American applicants were sent to work.
The lawsuit alleges Vee Pak, Inc. is in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“I just want the opportunity to work; I’m qualified and I need a job,” said Davis. “I just want them to pay attention and do better for the African American community.”
Plaintiffs are seeking compensation for past harm, both in terms of lost job opportunities and punitive damages, and injunctive relief to change Vee Pak’s hiring practices.
Davis and the other four plaintiffs were repeatedly “given the run around,” according to their lawyer, Christopher Williams of the Workers’ Law Office, in Chicago.
“They were subjected to a different standard than other non-African Americans,” he said.
The lawsuit is set to get assigned to a federal judge, and the defendant, Vee Pak, Inc., will be served with the lawsuit; they have 60 days to respond.
“These products from Johnson & Johnson are marketed throughout our African American communities, so the people within our communities should be provided the opportunity to work and make those products,” said Elce Redmond, organizing director for the South Austin Coalition Community Council (SACCC), during a press conference at the Dirksen Federal Building. SACCC, a non-profit organization in Chicago’s West Side neighborhood of Austin, is the parent organization to CASTE.
On the same day the lawsuit was filed, Redmond signed a letter sent to Johnson & Johnson Chief Executive Officer Alex Gorsky, calling on him to meet with the plaintiffs. Redmond said in the letter he’d like to encourage enforcement of the company’s “Responsibility Standards for Suppliers,” which states any supplier to Johnson & Johnson, a multi-national manufacturer of pharmaceutical, diagnostic, therapeutic, surgical, and biotechnology products, may not discriminate based on race.
“Johnson & Johnson’s ‘Responsibility Standards for Suppliers’ says to treat people with dignity and respect, and as you’ve heard the testimony from these brave workers, it’s obvious that African Americans are not treated with respect,” he said.
Here’s more from Redmond at yesterday’s press conference:
Redmond said SACCC conducted it’s own research prior to the lawsuit by sending approximately 20 African American men to Vee Pak for work throughout the first few months of 2012. Redmond said each man was consistently turned away.
Neither a representative from Vee Pak, Inc., nor Johnson & Johnson, could be reached for comment by deadline.
“We need to let Johnson & Johnson know that we are tired of discrimination,” said Leone Jose Bicchieri, executive director for Chicago Workers’ Collaborative (CWC), an Illinois non-profit aimed at improving working conditions for temporary employees and Hispanic immigrants.
Representatives from CWC spoke in support of the lawsuit during the press conference, saying that while Johnson & Johnson’s suppliers discriminate African Americans based on race, it also exploits Hispanics.
“This is not about Latinos or African Americans being treated better or worse; they are shut out of the jobs, but we are welcomed in because maybe we won’t complain if we break our arm or cut off one of our fingers at the staffing agency,” he said.
“Temp workers of all backgrounds are tired of discrimination.”
Views – 62