Pharos-Tribune

December 20, 2013

Civil rights commission charges Tyson with discrimination

Supervisor born overseas alleges wrongful firing.

by Sarah Einselen
Pharos-Tribune

---- — The Indiana Civil Rights Commission has charged Tyson Foods in Logansport with violating the state's civil rights law after the plant reportedly fired a supervisor for breaching company policy but retained another who ran afoul of the same policy.

ICRC Deputy Director Akia Haynes said in a press release that the commission has found probable cause that Tyson Foods terminated a foreign-born supervisor for violation of a company policy while retaining another supervisor, one born in the U.S., who violated the same policy.

The complainant's case against Tyson is based on discrimination because of national origin. The complainant, or terminated supervisor, is identified as Hispanic, but an ICRC spokesman declined to identify the complainant's country of origin, citing a need to protect the people involved in the case.

A Tyson spokesman declined to discuss individual personnel issues, but said in an email the company's policy is to provide a work environment free of unlawful harassment and discrimination.

The company maintains a strict policy against unlawful harassment, including that based on national origin, according to spokesman Worth Sparkman, and employees are trained in harassment and discrimination policy each year.

The ICRC indicates the case stems from a Feb. 8 incident in which a Tyson employee injured himself. The employee notified the complainant, who at the time was supervisor of shipping, and another supervisor about the incident and asked to go home instead of being examined by medical personnel on staff at Tyson.

Tyson policy stipulates any employee involved in an injury which may lead to worker's compensation pay must immediately be screened for alcohol or drugs. However, the complainant and the other supervisor agreed to let the employee go home without a substance screening, according to the ICRC, though the employee had informed both supervisors that he'd consumed marijuana earlier that day.

The probable cause finding indicates the complainant was fired a week later, on Feb. 15, for having violated Tyson policy in the decision to let the injured employee go home. However, Tyson failed to discipline the other supervisor, the finding states.

According to the finding, Tyson said the complainant was the only one to make the final decision to send the injured employee home. The ICRC found that rationale "unworthy of credence," the finding states.

The complainant and Tyson have been engaged in mediation, according to ICRC spokesman Brad Meadows, but have not agreed on a settlement. The case is expected to go before the ICRC's administrative law judge in Indianapolis at a date yet to be determined.

Tyson could be subject to a monetary settlement to cover the complainant's lost wages and attorney's fees if the judge renders an opinion favorable to the complainant. The complainant could also ask to be reinstated as shipping supervisor, Meadows said, since ICRC case documents appear to indicate the complainant had been in good standing other than the policy violation in question.

If the judge rules that the charges of discrimination were unfounded, the complainant wouldn't be subject to any fines from the ICRC, but Tyson could pursue legal action independently, Meadows said.

The ICRC receives 900 to 1,200 complaints a year, of which 10 percent to 15 percent end up reaching the stage of a cause finding, Meadows said. About 60 percent to 65 percent of all complaints are employment-related.

No cases past or present have been filed against Tyson's Logansport plant or its facilities in Corydon or Portland, Meadows said.

Sarah Einselen is news editor at the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at sarah.einselen@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5151. Twitter: @PharosSME

Document online View the notice of probable cause finding issued by the Indiana Civil Rights Commission at www.pharostribune.com and click on this story.