CHICAGO (Reuters) - The Labor Department has filed a complaint accusing Tyson Foods Inc of systematically rejecting female job applicants at its plant in Illinois and is asking that the meat producer be barred from federal contracts until it fixes the problem.
Tyson Fresh Meats, a unit of the world's largest supplier of premium beef and pork, denied the allegations and said the issue is about documentation rather than discrimination.
Tyson, which is a federal contractor providing meat to the military and federal food nutrition programs, was charged by the Labor Department with discriminating against women seeking entry-level positions at its beef plant in Joslin, the department said on Thursday.
An executive order prohibits federal contractors such as Tyson from discriminating on the basis of gender while hiring employees.
The Labor Department's complaint requests that all of Tyson's federal contracts be canceled and the company be barred from future government contracts until it has remedied the violations.
"We are disappointed the Department of Labor has taken this course of action," Ken Kimbro, Tyson's chief human resources officer, said in a statement. "We believe there were legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons certain applicants were not hired."
The Labor Department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) believes that more than 750 women are owed back wages and more than 100 women should be given the option of working for the company.
The OFCCP complaint also seeks to provide relief, including lost wages, interest and other benefits of employment, to affected individuals.
Tyson said the issue is about documentation, not discrimination as the OFCCP's charges are based on an audit of job application forms at the plant, not on complaints by anyone who was seeking a job.
Tyson also said the audit was conducted in 2003 and 2004 and since then the company has instituted procedures to ensure it retains documents to support selection decisions.
At the time of the government audit, Tyson said the plant's workforce was 28 percent women and 66 percent minorities.
Shares of Tyson Foods were down 10 cents at $17 Thursday morning at the New York Stock Exchange.
(Additional reporting by Sakthi Prasad in Bangalore; Editing by Will Waterman, Dave Zimmerman)