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Chemical Giant Reaches Hiring Settlement

Friday, June 10, 2016

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A chemical company that manufactures thickeners and other components for paints and coatings has settled with the U.S. government over allegations its hiring practices were discriminatory against African-American applicants.

As part of the agreement, Aqualon Company, a subsidiary of chemical giant Ashland Inc., will revise its hiring procedures and pay out a total of $175,000 to applicants who the government says were discriminated against.

Standardized test
© / cslgraphics

The firm used employment tests that were not validated by government guidelines, according to the allegations set forth by the OFCCP.

Aqualon was accused by the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs of failing to apply selection procedures uniformly, resulting in a “statistically significant difference in the rates at which Blacks and Whites were hired into the Transition Operator positions” from October of 2011 through September of 2012.

The firm also used employment tests—specifically ACT Inc.’s WorkKeys test, according to the Petersburg, VA, Progress-Index—that were not validated by government guidelines, according to the allegations set forth by the OFCCP.

The use of the test “adversely affected African-American applicants,” the Department of Labor said in a press release. “The test was not job-related and did not meet the requirements of the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures.”

Company Denies Wrongdoing

A lawyer for Aqualon, however, told the Progress-Index that the company denies wrongdoing. “It is not a finding that there is any intent,” Colleen Lewis said of the office’s finding. “It is not a finding that the company made any discriminatory decision.”

Lewis also denies that the company agreed to stop using the test in question for entry-level positions, which the Labor Department claimed in its press release.

Ashland's Hopewell VA plant
Ashland Corp.

The Hopewell, VA, site where the discriminatory practices were alleged produces ingredients for Natrosol Performax and Natrosol FPS fluidized polymer suspension paint thickeners.

According to the portions of the conciliation agreement that are available for public review, the company agreed to “review its hiring procedures … to ensure compliance with Executive Order 11246,” the order that outlines nondiscrimination practices for government contractors.

As part of the agreement, Aqualon does not admit liability.

$37 Million in Government Contracts

Government contracts are at the heart of the allegations against Aqualon: The company has federal contracts worth more than $37 million, the OFCCP says, including work for the Pentagon and other federal agencies.

Federal contractors must meet certain standards for nondiscrimination, as outlined in Executive Order 11246 (created in 1965 and amended in 2014) and other statues originating in the early 1970s.

In addition to reviewing and revising its practices and keeping better documentation of hiring, Aqualon agreed to pay out $175,000 total to a class of 660 African-American applicants who were subject to the practices in question in 2011 and 2012. It has already hired four of the African-American applicants for other entry-level jobs, according to the Department of Labor.

About Ashland

Ashland did $5.4 billion in sales in its fiscal year 2014-15, according to the corporation’s website. Its company is divided into three units: Ashland Specialty Ingredients, Ashland Performance Materials and Valvoline.

According to Ashland’s website, the Hopewell, VA, site where the discriminatory practices were alleged produces ingredients for its Natrosol Performax and Natrosol FPS fluidized polymer suspension paint thickeners, as well as other thickeners for ink, food and beverage and other products.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story misstated Ashland Corporation's total sales in fiscal year 2014-15; the correct number is $5.4 billion.


Tagged categories: Construction chemicals; Department of Labor; Hiring; Laws and litigation

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