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Jennie-O will hire more women after federal discrimination lawsuit

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The country's second-largest turkey producer has agreed to hire more women following a federal investigation and lawsuit.

A U.S. Department of Labor lawsuit accused Willmar-based Jennie-O of discriminating against qualified women who applied for jobs following a review from February 2009 to February 2010, a news release says.

Since Jennie-O has gotten nearly $360 million in contracts from the federal government, it's subject to reviews from the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, which found the alleged discrimination violated an equal opportunity employment rule, the office said.

But the company, which doesn't admit liability, has resolved the case, according to the agency.

Jennie-O agreed to hire 53 women and pay a total of $491,861 in back wages to 338 women who had applied for – but did not get – entry level jobs at the Willmar turkey-processing facility.

Patricia Shiu, the director of the labor department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, said Jennie-O has worked "proactively" with the agency to resolve the discrimination claims and "has agreed to train personnel involved in the selection process to ensure that non-discriminatory policies are carried out going forward."

In a statement to BringMeTheNews, Rick Williamson, of Hormel Foods Corporation (which owns Jennie-O), said:

"We reiterate our commitment to a discrimination-free workplace for our employees and disagree with the Department of Labor's claims. That being said, we believe a settlement at this time will avoid further litigation and allow us to move forward with our business."

Federal officials are now looking for anyone who may have been impacted by the discrimination claims – they could be eligible for a portion of the back wages or consideration for job placement, the release says. If that could be you, visit the agency's website here or call 877-716-9783 for more information.

This isn't the first time a Minnesota company has faced this type of discrimination lawsuit. In 2014, Cargill agreed to pay $2.2 million to settle claims, the Business Journal says.

Women in the workplace

The Jennie-O case comes as the gender pay gap and women's rights continues to be a hot topic on the presidential campaign trial.

Here's a look at some statistics about women in the workplace:

A recent NBC News poll found 51 percent of women have personally experienced discrimination based on their gender. A majority of women also said society hasn't reached a point where women and men have equal opportunities for achievement.

Women's participation in the workplace has grown over timeAccording to the Department of Labor, 57 percent of women now participate in the labor force. But on average women only make about 79 percent of what men earn, the agency says.

And the International Labour Organization says there are fewer women in leadership positions – in 2009, only 24 percent of CEOs in the United States were women, and they earned 74.5 percent as much as male CEOs.

The Washington Post recently did a story about women in the workplace and "why they just can't win." Read it here.

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