The Department of Labor filed an administrative complaint today against Tyson Fresh Meats, a subsidiary of Tyson Foods. The complaint alleges that Tyson has systematically refused to hire female applicants in a plant in Illinois. The Department seeks back wages and other relief, including hiring, for 750 women alleged to have been rejected only because of Tyson’s illegal practices.
To attract this kind of Labor Department charge is even more drastic than being a defendant to an EEOC complaint. While both seek wide-ranging relief and damages, the Department of Labor is also in charge of enforcing a long-standing executive order mandating that federal contractors abide by federal anti-discrimination laws. This executive order, 11246, dating from 1965, drove the requirement of affirmative action reporting by federal contractors in the 1970s and 1980s.
By running afoul of the Department of Labor’s investigation, Tysons faces debarment, or a period during which it will not be permitted to contract with the federal government. For many companies, losing the federal government’s business is a death knell. Tyson’s is reported by Labor to be the largest supplier of premium beef and pork, and can survive without the government. But any debarment will surely be a blow to profits, and the publicity surrounding the discrimination charge may attract others.