Settlement of OFCCP Employment Discrimination Charge Reminder To ARRA, Other Government Contractors Of Heightened Enforcement Risks


Federal contractor Nash Finch Co. (Nash Finch) will pay $188,500 in back wages and interest and offer jobs to certain women applicants who the U.S Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) charged Nash rejected for the entry-level position of order selector at the company’s distribution facility in Lumberton, Minnesota under a consent decree approved by an OFCCP administrative law judge this week.

Nash Finch Settlement Highlights

Minneapolis-based and the second-largest wholesale food distributor in the U.S., Nash Finch distributes food products to military commissaries around the world. Since the start of the OFCCP review period on May 1, 2005, Nash Finch has received payments of more than $14 million from the U.S. Department of Defense.

The consent decree resolves an OFCCP administrative action commenced after OFCCP investigators conducted a review of Nash Finch’s employment practices at the Lumberton facility from May 1, 2005, to Dec. 31, 2006. OFCCP asserted that Nash Finch had failed to ensure qualified female job applicants received equal consideration for employment without regard to sex as required by Executive Order 11246. OFCCP filed a complaint with the Labor Department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges on Nov. 30, 2010, alleging that Nash Finch systematically had discriminated against women who applied for jobs as order selectors during a nine-month period in 2006. See Solis v. Nash Finch Co., OFCCP Case Number: 2011-OFC-00004.  Under the consent decree, Nash Finch will pay $188,500 in back pay and interest to the 84 women.  In addition to the financial remedies, the settlement requires Nash Finch to extend job offers to up to 12 women in the original class as order selector positions become available. The company must also submit progress reports to OFCCP for the next two years.

Reflective of the growing emphasis of OFCCP and other federal agencies on audit and enforcement of compliance with federal employment discrimination and affirmative action laws, the Nash Finch charges and resultant settlement highlight that the Obama Administration’s emphasis on employment discrimination and other civil rights laws expansion and enforcement is resulting in increased liability for employers that fail to take appropriate steps to manage compliance related risks.

Settlements Remind ARRA & Other Federal Government Contractors To Act To Defend Against Heightened Requirements & Enforcement

The OFCCP action and settlement against Nash Finch and other recent OFCCP and other employment discrimination law enforcement actions and settlements against government contractors and other U.S. employers remind U.S. businesses that provide services or supplies directly or as subcontractors on federally funded projects or contracts to review and tighten their employment discrimination, affirmative action and other employment practices in light of the Obama Administration’s heightened emphasis on auditing and enforcing OFCCP and other nondiscrimination and affirmative action rules.

While all U.S businesses face heightened exposures to discrimination-related enforcement risks and liability under the Obama Administration’s enforcement policies, businesses providing services or supplies directly or as subcontractors on projects funded in whole or in part by monies provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (“ARRA”) or other federally funded projects or contracts are particularly at risk.  See e.g.,  Leprino Foods To Pay $550K To Settle OFCCP Charge Pre-Hire Screening Test Illegally Discriminated « As EEOC Steps Up ADA Accommodation Enforcement, New DOD Apple App, Other Resources Released; Wal-Mart Settlement Shows ADA Risks When Considering Employee Return To Work Accommodation Requests & Inquiries; Employer Pays $475,000 To Settle ADA Discrimination Lawsuit Challenging Medical Fitness Testing For EMTs, Firefighters & Other Public Safety Worker’s.

Subject to limited exceptions, government contractors providing services or supplies on ARRA or other government funded contracts or projects must comply both with generally applicable employment discrimination requirements and special statutory and contractual nondiscrimination, affirmative action, and recordkeeping requirements applicable government contractors. For instance, federal law generally requires government contractors to comply with the special equal employment opportunity requirements of  Executive Order 11246 (EO 11246); Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 503); and the Vietnam Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 (VEVRAA).   Pursuant to these laws, business with the federal government, both contractors and subcontractors, generally must follow a number of statutory and contractual requirements to follow the fair and reasonable standard that they not discriminate in employment on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, national origin, disability or status as a protected veteran. OFCCP generally audits and enforces these requirements. Memo to Funding Recipients: Compliance with Applicable Nondiscrimination and Equal Opportunity Statutes, Regulations, and Executive Orders.  OFCCP has made clear that it will conduct compliance evaluations and host compliance assistance events to ensure that federal contractors comply and are aware of their responsibilities under EO 11246, Section 503 and VEVRAA.  While many government contractors may be tempted to become complacent about OFCCP exposures based on reports of the OFCCP’s relatively low enforcement in the past, see Report Says OFCCP Enforcement Data Show Infrequent Veteran, Disability Bias Findings | Bloomberg BNA recent enforcement data documents OFCCP is getting much more serious and aggressive about auditing and enforcing compliance with its affirmative action and other requirements against government contractors under the Obama Administration.  See, OFCCP Enforcement Data is Available on a New DOL Website. See also, Affirmative Action Update: OFCCP Enforcement Statistics Show Increase in Violations

  • Government Contractors On ARRA Funded Projects Particularly Exposed

When the contract or project in question receives any funding out of the $787 billion of stimulus funding provided by ARRA, special OFCCP rules applicable to ARRA funded projects necessitates that federal contractors exercise special care to understand and meet their responsibilities and manage associated exposures. 

For one thing, the range of businesses required to comply with OFCCP’s equal employment opportunity requirements for government contractors is broader.  Government contractors who sometimes qualify as exempt from certain OFCCP rules may not qualify as exempt when working on ARRA funded projects.  Government contractors that on other types of federally-funded projects might qualify as exempt from certain OFCCP requirements often are unaware that the range of federal contractors required to comply with the OFCCP equal employment opportunity and related rules of ARRA is much broader than often applies for federal projects funded from other sources. Smaller government contractors run the risk of unknowingly incurring liability by mistakenly assuming that the small size of their contract exempts them from otherwise applicable OFCCP requirements. Consequently, before relying on any assumed exemption, a government contractor providing goods or services for ARRA-funded project directly or as a subcontractor should specifically verify the applicability of those exemptions and document that analysis.  

Furthermore, all government contractors on ARRA-funded projects need to understand that they operate subject to heightened compliance and enforcement scrutiny.  The OFCCP particularly scrutinizes government contractor equal employment opportunity and other civil rights requirements on ARRA funded projects.  The “Procedures for Scheduling and Conducting Compliance Evaluations of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) Funded Contractors” issued July 7, 2009.  See OFCCP Order No. ADM 0901/SEL the “ARRA Procedures”) subject government contractors on ARRA funded projects to special rules and heightened OFCCP oversight.  OFCCP has established separate scheduling procedures to provide for compliance evaluations of ARRA funded contractors separate from those usually applicable to government contractors because ARRA also obligates OFCCP separately to track its ARRA-related and non-ARRA-related enforcement activities. 

The ARRA Procedures require that Regional, District and Area offices conduct a full compliance evaluation, including a full desk audit and onsite review, of every ARRA funded contractor establishment scheduled, even in the absence of systemic discrimination indicators. Normally applied by OFCCP to non-ARRA government contract reviews, Active Case Management (ACM) procedures normally allow OFCCP to conduct only an abbreviated desk audit in the absence of systematic discrimination indicators in non-ARRA compliance evaluations.  These ACM procedures will not be used in ARRA compliance evaluations. 

Due to the special nature of ARRA, OFCCP also has indicated that the ARRA compliance evaluations will not apply the following scheduling exceptions typically applicable in non-ARRA contract compliance reviews.  For instance, OFCCP ARRA procedures state:

  • No more than 25 establishments per contractor exception: Presently, for contractors with multiple establishments, the Federal Contractor Scheduling System (FCSS) limits the number of compliance evaluations scheduled to 25 new evaluations during a scheduling cycle. The 25-establishment limit does not apply to ARRA compliance evaluations.
  • Two year exception: Traditionally, contractor establishments that have been reviewed by OFCCP are excepted from further review for a 24-month period. Under ARRA scheduling procedures, ARRA funded contractor establishments may be eligible for an ARRA compliance evaluation even if they have been reviewed within the previous 24 months. However, pre-award clearance is not required for contractor establishments reviewed by OFCCP within the past 24 months.

However, ARRA scheduling procedures will apply the following scheduling exceptions:

  • ARRA funded contractor establishments that have undergone an FCSS compliance evaluation will be excepted from scheduling and review under ARRA procedures for six months from the date of the FCSS case closure.
  • ARRA funded contractor establishments that have undergone an ARRA compliance evaluation will not be subject to another ARRA evaluation.
  • ARRA funded contractor establishments that have undergone an ARRA evaluation will also be excepted from scheduling for a standard OFCCP compliance evaluation, pursuant to FCSS, for 24 months from the date of closure of the ARRA compliance evaluation.

ARRA funded contractors also are subject to other special pre-award clearance, pre-award intake, pre-award classification and other special procedures.  The ARRA Procedures also set for special requirements particularly applicable to construction contracts funded by ARRA.

The special procedures and heightened compliance review procedures provided for under the ARRA Procedures indicate that government contractors or subcontractors providing services or supplies on projects funded with ARRA funds will want to place special attention on compliance with OFCCP and other federal equal employment opportunity and other employment regulation compliance.

Government Contractors, Other US Employers Urged To Act To Manage Exposures

In the face of the rising emphasis of OFCCP, the EEOC and other federal and state agencies on these audit and enforcement activities, government contractors and other U.S. businesses should act to position themselves to defend against likely challenges and scrutiny.  All government contractors and other businesses should review and tighten the adequacy of their existing compliance and risk management practices to promote and document compliance.  These efforts should focus on all relevant hiring, recruitment, promotion, compensation, recordkeeping and reporting policies and practices internally, as well as those of any recruiting agencies, subcontractors or other business partners whose actions might impact on compliance. Among other things, these steps should include the following:

  • Government contractors and subcontractors should specifically review their existing or proposed contracts and involvements to identify projects or contracts which may involve federal or state contracts or funding that could trigger responsibility.  In this respect, businesses should conduct well-documented inquiries when proposing and accepting contracts to ensure that potential obligations as a government contractor are not overlooked because of inadequate intake procedures. Businesses also should keep in mind that ARRA and other federal program funds often may be filtered through a complex maze of federal grants or program funding to states or other organizations, which may pass along government contractor status and liability when subcontracting for services as part of the implementation of broader programs.  Since the existence of these obligations often is signaled by contractual representations in the contracts with these parties, careful review of contractual or bid specifications and commitments is essential.  However, it also generally is advisable also to inquire about whether the requested products or services are provided pursuant to programs or contracts subject to these requirements early in the process. 
  • In addition to working to identify contracts and arrangements that are covered by OFCCP or other requirements, government contractors and other businesses also should reconfirm and continuously monitor the specific reporting, affirmative action, and other requirements that apply to any programs that may be subject to OFCCP requirements to ensure that they fully understand and implement appropriate procedures to comply with these conditions as well as pass along  the obligation to make similarly necessary arrangements to any subcontractors or suppliers that the government contractor involves as a subcontractor. 
  • Throughout the course of the contract, the government contractor also should take steps to maintain and file all required reports and monitor and audit operational compliance with these and other requirements.  
  • The organization should develop and administer appropriate procedures for monitoring and investigating potential compliance concerns and maintaining documentation of that activity.  Any known potential deficiencies or complaints should be promptly investigated and redressed with the assistance of qualified counsel in a prompt manner to mitigate potential risks.
  • Documentation should be carefully retained and organized on a real time and continuous basis to faciliate efficiency and effectiveness in completing required reports, monitoring compliance indicators and responding to OFCCP, EEOC or private plaintiff charges as well as other compliance inquiries.
  • Any audit inquiries or charges should be promptly referred to qualified legal counsel for timely evaluation and response.
  • When available and affordable, management should consider securing appropriate employment practices liability coverage, indemnification from business partners and other liability protection and assurance to help mitigate investigagtion and defense costs.
  • Board members or other senior management should include periodic review of compliance in their agenda.

If you have any questions or need help reviewing and updating your organization’s employment, employee benefits, contracting or other risk management or internal controls compliance practices, responding to an OFCCP, EEOC or other government or private plaintiff charge or investigation, or if we may be of assistance with regard to any other workforce or compliance management, employee benefits, compensation matters, please do not hesitate to contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

About The Author

Management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer helps businesses, governments and associations solve problems, develop and implement strategies to manage people, processes, and regulatory exposures to achieve their business and operational objectives and manage legal, operational and other risks. Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, with more than 20 years human resource and employee benefits experience, Ms. Stamer helps businesses manage their people-related risks and the performance of their internal and external workforce though appropriate human resources, employee benefit, worker’s compensation, insurance, outsourcing and risk management strategies domestically and internationally. Recognized in the International Who’s Who of Professionals and bearing the Martindale Hubble AV-Rating, Ms. Stamer also is a highly regarded author and speaker, who regularly conducts management and other training on a wide range of labor and employment, employee benefit, human resources, internal controls and other related risk management matters.  Her writings frequently are published by the American Bar Association (ABA), Aspen Publishers, Bureau of National Affairs, the American Health Lawyers Association, SHRM, World At Work, Government Institutes, Inc., Atlantic Information Services, Employee Benefit News, and many others. For a listing of some of these publications and programs, see here. Her insights on human resources risk management matters also have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, various publications of The Bureau of National Affairs and Aspen Publishing, the Dallas Morning News, Spencer Publications, Health Leaders, Business Insurance, the Dallas and Houston Business Journals and a host of other publications. Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit and Other Compensation Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and the Legislative Chair of the Dallas Human Resources Management Association Government Affairs Committee, she also serves in leadership positions in many human resources, corporate compliance, and other professional and civic organizations. For more details about Ms. Stamer’s experience and other credentials, contact Ms. Stamer, information about workshops and other training, selected publications and other human resources related information, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at 469.767.8872 or via e-mail to cstamer@solutionslawyer.net.

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources at www.solutionslawpress.com including:

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©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.

 

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