Mississippi Company Settles Lawsuit Alleging it Favored Latinos

A company targeted in one of the country’s largest workplace raids against undocumented immigrants settled a discrimination lawsuit accusing it of giving preferential treatment to Latinos.

Howard Industries in Mississippi was accused of not offering a job to Charlyn Dozier, a plaintiff, until after the 2008 raid. She had been applying for a position at the company every three to six months for about six years. The other plaintiffs, Veronica Cook, Yolanda Phelps and Seleatha McGee, made similar allegations.

Immigration agents detained nearly 600 undocumented immigrants during the raid at the sprawling plant. Most of them were deported, though a handful faced identity theft charges. The company was fined $2.5 million in February 2011 after pleading guilty to conspiracy to violate immigration laws.

Spanglish Gone Wrong

A Feb. 9 filing in U.S. District Court in Jackson said a tentative deal has been reached and "the parties anticipate submitting an appropriate motion for settlement approval in the near future." The filing made no mention of the terms of the settlement, and such deals are often confidential in civil lawsuits.

The women's attorney, Lisa Ross, said Monday that the matter is before the court and it would be premature to comment. Attorneys for Howard Industries didn't immediately respond to messages.

The discrimination lawsuit was filed Feb. 25, 2011, and claimed Howard Industries discriminated against American workers by giving preferential treatment to Latino applicants and workers, many of whom were undocumented immigrants from Mexico.

Ross told The Associated Press for a story last year that there was more to the case than the company just preferring undocumented immigrants. She said the company was acting on racial stereotypes that Latinos work harder than blacks and whites, and would put up with conditions that American workers may find objectionable.

Life After Deportation

The lawsuit claimed Howard Industries not only knew it was hiring undocumented immigrants, but instructed some on how to get false identities and concealed the fact that hundreds of employees were undocumented. Federal authorities made similar allegations against the company.

In the days after the raid, hundreds of people lined up outside the plant to apply for jobs. Jobs at Howard Industries were among the most coveted in the area, which is in Mississippi's Pine Belt region and is home to a commercial timber industry and chicken processing plants. Howard Industries makes dozens of products, from electrical transformers to medical supplies. It had been considered one of Mississippi's most successful private companies.

Howard Industries repeatedly denied knowing that undocumented immigrants worked at the plant, and blamed the situation on its former personnel director, Jose Humberto Gonzalez. Gonzalez was the only company executive charged in the case and pleaded guilty in December 2009. He was sentenced last March to six months house arrest and five years on probation for knowingly hiring undocumented immigrants. His fine was $4,000.

Howard Industries has said the undocumented immigrants used fake papers to circumvent numerous identification checks the company uses. But prosecutors said the company knowingly hired undocumented immigrants.

Some of the workers were given jobs even after the Social Security Administration told the company that their Social Security numbers were not valid, prosecutors said. The same allegation is made in the civil lawsuit.

Gonzalez admitted to similar allegations when he pleaded guilty.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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