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HANFORD – Marquez Brothers International Inc. systematically discriminated against non-Hispanic job applicants in favor of Hispanic candidates, according to a lawsuit submitted this week by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.

The San Jose-based Mexican dairy products manufacturer, with a plant in Hanford that employs approximately 200 people, "favored less qualified Hispanic job applicants over all other races (including black, white and Asian applicants) in unskilled positions," according to an EEOC press release.

"Deterring applicants from applying because of their race flies in the face of federal law," said EEOC attorney Anna Park in a written statement received by the Sentinel on Thursday.

Marquez officials didn't respond to requests for comment by press deadline Thursday.

The EEOC complaint filed in court relies on the case of Alfred Davis, who is said to have applied for a job at the Marquez plant in Hanford in 2010.

Davis is black.

Davis is said to have been passed over for an entry-level position even though he allegedly had "four years of experience in the production of powdered milk, butter, and cream cheese."

Davis told EEOC officials that four other Hispanic applicants were hired at about the same time he applied.

Fresno-based EEOC official Melissa Barrios said an EEOC investigation revealed that Davis "wasn't considered for the position."

Barrios said EEOC officials interviewed several other people who made allegations similar to the ones Davis made.

"There are at least 11 others," she said. "We expect that number to grow."

The alleged discrimination is said to have happened not only at the Hanford plant, but also at Marquez facilities in Fresno, Sacramento, San Diego, Colorado, Nevada and Texas.

Among the claims made in the complaint is that Marquez asked applicants "if they spoke Spanish and deterred their attempts to apply if they said they didn't speak Spanish, even though ability to speak Spanish was not a job requirement."

The complaint states that Marquez filed reports with EEOC from 2010 to 2013 indicating that "between 95 and 98 percent of [the] workforce at the Hanford plant was Hispanic."

Kings County's population was 53.6 percent Hispanic in 2015, according to the latest statistics from the California Department of Finance.

Barrios said that one factor EEOC officials look is the racial makeup of the community surrounding an employer.

Kings County Economic Development Corp./Job Training Office CEO John Lehn said he wasn't aware of any of the specific allegations against Marquez.

"They have always been an excellent employer," he said.

Lehn said the Marquez plant in Hanford is a "great referral for us to make for those who are mono-lingual."

Lehn was referring to job seekers who speak Spanish but aren't proficient in English.

Barrios said that EEOC has been involved in previous cases were it was alleged that an employer "showed preference for a minority group."

"It's something that we don't hear about often in the press, but it does happen," she said.

The complaint also alleges that Marquez didn't keep required records and submit them to EEOC.

The complaint seeks relief for Davis and other named plaintiffs in the form of "compensation for past and future [monetary] losses, including but not limited to back pay, hiring, and where appropriate front pay ... in the amounts to be described at trial."

The complaint also seeks compensation for plaintiffs' "non-[monetary] losses," including "pain and suffering."

The complaint also seeks punitive damages against Marquez "in an amount to be determined at trial."

The reporter can be reached at snidever@hanfordsentinel.com or 583-2432. 

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