Howard agrees to proposed $1.3M settlement

Article subtitle: 
Plaintiffs sued Laurel plant for discriminatory hiring practices
Article author: 
Jesse Bass
Article publisher:
Article date: 
Monday, November 19, 2012
Article category: 
National Issues
Article Body: 

Those eligible for part of a proposed, $1.3 million class-action settlement alleging discriminatory hiring practices at Howard Industries’ Laurel transformer plant have until Nov. 29 to opt out of their piece of the settlement.

Howard entered into a settlement agreement without admitting any wrongdoing to avoid protracted litigation in a lawsuit filed by four plaintiffs alleging the business held discriminatory hiring practices toward non-Hispanics.

U.S. District Court Judge Keith Starrett entered an order Oct. 5 outlining the processes involved in distributing the settlement. The settlement will only be approved following a Jan. 23 final fairness hearing before Starrett.

Veronica Cook, Yolanda Phelps, Charlyn Dozier and Seleatha McGee, all African-American, said in their Feb. 2011 lawsuit they repeatedly applied for employment at Howard Industries, but were only hired after the company was raided by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

On Aug. 25, 2008, 592 illegal workers were arrested at the electrical transformer plant in Laurel in the biggest workplace immigration raid in U.S. history.

The lawsuit was filed one day after Howard Industries Inc. pleaded guilty and agreed to pay a $2.5 million fine for violating immigration laws.

Howard Industries former human resources manager, Jose Humberto Gonzalez, pleaded guilty in December 2009 to conspiracy and admitted he hired hundreds of people whom he knew were in the country illegally.

Gonzalez was sentenced in 2011 to five months of house arrest, placed on five years probation and fined $4,000.

Howard will put the settlement funding into an account designated by a jointly selected claims administrator.

“The claims administrator will accept claims from purported members of the class and will determine whether those individuals are, in fact, class members and, if so, whether they are entitled to a payment under terms of the settlement agreement,” Starrett wrote in his order.

The administrator will divide class members into four categories to include:

• Plaintiffs named in the lawsuit

• Those who applied between Jan. 1, 2003 and Aug. 25, 2008 who were not hired or offered employment, and records show no valid, non-discriminatory reason for non hire, but were hired after Aug. 25, 2008

• Those who applied during the same period and were not hired while Howard’s records show no valid, non-discriminatory reason

• Those who applied during the same period and were not hired, but records do not affirmatively show the claimant was qualified.

Howard will also offer 70 of the class members a position within nine months of the settlement to be selected by lottery.

Following the entry of Starrett’s order, the administrator began mailing notice of the class action and proposed settlement to eligible class members.