Thursday, January 22, 2004

Unions back suit against Cintas

By Mike Boyer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Two unions attempting to represent Cintas Corp. workers are backing a class-action lawsuit filed in a California federal court. It accuses the Mason uniform supplier of discriminating against minorities.

The suit, filed Tuesday in San Francisco, accuses Cintas of discriminating against African-Americans and Latinos in hiring, pay and promotion and disproportionately hiring minorities for lower-paying, less desirable jobs.

The 44-page lawsuit includes some of the same plaintiffs and allegations in a complaint filed in November with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accusing Cintas of a "massive pattern of discrimination.''

The new lawsuit allows Cintas workers to seek remedies outside federal regulatory actions, according to the unions.

UNITE, the needletrades union, and the Teamsters launched a campaign a year ago to represent 17,000 Cintas hourly employees. The unions have filed a series of lawsuits, regulatory complaints and staged demonstrations to pressure Cintas to recognize them as bargaining agent. The company maintains that union representation should be decided by the workers in government-supervised elections.

Karen Carnahan, Cintas treasurer, said the company hadn't seen the lawsuit, but denied that the company discriminates against minorities. "We have a number of programs to encourage minorities,'' she said. "We will mount a vigorous defense.''

The EEOC has six months to investigate the earlier allegations, after which it can issue a "right-to-sue'' letter allowing the unions to bring action in federal court.

The new lawsuit also brings claims under California's unfair business practices act.


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