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Chicago lawsuit accuses staffing firm of passing over blacks in favor of Hispanics

African American discrimination lawsuit Chicago

Five African-American men from Chicago filed a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday alleging that a temporary job staffing company discriminated against them in favor of Hispanic applicants.

According to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, the agency, MVP Staffing, used coded language to weed out African-American applicants from Hispanic at the behest of corporate clients who refused to hire them.

I know that certain clients of MVP do not want African Americans assigned to work at their company and that MVP has a policy of accommodating these requests

- Rosa Ceja

The company operates in 60 offices in 38 states.

The MVP branch office that serves the plaintiffs is located in the suburb of Cicero, which borders the heavily African-American west side of Chicago. 

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In the Cicero area, though, 70 percent of the population is Hispanic and 30 percent is African-American.

"When we started looking into these cases, early on, we found that almost 98.2 percent of the applicants placed in jobs at one client company, for example, were Latino," Christopher Williams of the Workers' Law Office, the plaintiff's lead trial attorney, told Fox News.com. 

If it was 10 Mexicans that would come at 1:30 p.m., and 25 African-Americans that were there at 4:30 a.m. and were waiting to be sent to work, they would send the Mexicans first.

- Rosa Ceja

The lawsuit, which is seeking class-action status, contains statements from former MVP employees, including Rosa Ceja, 29, who was an on-site manager at one of MVP's companies in Elmwood Park, Illinois.

"I know that certain clients of MVP do not want African-Americans assigned to work at their company and that MVP has a policy of accommodating these requests," Ceja said in her statement. She added that she had been "yelled at” when she assigned black workers to a client, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Court documents show that Latino workers were described as "feos" (Spanish for "ugly ones"), Ceja said, while black workers were "guapos" (Spanish for "handsome ones" or, according to the court filings, "pretty boys -- ones who don't want to do dirty work.")

"In one case, an applicant had to watch a training video; afterward there was a quiz and the video was in Spanish," Williams said.

He added that the MVP employees who were tasked to discriminate against African-Americans were disgusted by it.  

Andrew Wells, Director of Workforce Development with the Chicago Urban league says that if the Hispanic applicants who were hired are undocumented, it would be because they "don't have a voice and it's harder for them to make a claim against a company that's in the wrong."

Wells addded that this case spotlights the many ways businesses try to get around laws that protect the civil rights of people. 

The lawsuit includes eight counts of racial discrimination against MVP Staffing.

“What we have seen in this industry is that this is a more widespread phenomenon than what we have just found in this case, with this company,” attorney Joseph Sellers told the New York Times  

“The staffing agencies follow the requests made by the client companies even if they happen to be ones that might exclude people based on race.”

Ceja was forced out of the company in 2014 after complaining about sexual harassment by an MVP van driver, the Tribune reported. While he recently was convicted of battery against her, MVP contends that Ceja voluntarily abandoned her position.

Pamela Sanchez, another MVP employee, said in her testimony that she was instructed directly by a bakery not to send black workers.

She said in a statement that she would review the names of potential workers to be sent for a shift, but if their names didn’t sound Hispanic, she would overlook them, knowing they would be sent back.

Additionally, she added that she was instructed to have black applicants undergo criminal background checks, while in the case of Hispanic applicants it was not required.

“If it was 10 Mexicans that would come at 1:30 p.m., and 25 African-Americans that were there at 4:30 a.m. and were waiting to be sent to work, they would send the Mexicans first,” she said.

In Illinois, the unemployment rate among blacks, at about 14 percent, is nearly three times that of whites (5 percent) and nearly twice that of Hispanics (7.8 percent), according to

A May report released in May by the Economic Policy Institute showed that in Illinois the unemployment rate among blacks hovers around 14 percent, nearly twice that of Hispanics (7.8 percent).

Fox News.com called MVP for comment, but was told the company had no comment at this time.

Rebekah Sager is a writer and editor for FoxNews.com. She can be reached at rebekah.sager@foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @rebekah_sager.