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Federal contractor ordered to pay more than $960,000 in back wages in hiring discrimination case

A Baltimore-based asbestos removal contractor has been ordered to pay more than $960,000 in back wages and damages to resolve allegations of discriminatory hiring and compensation.

A federal administrative law judge ordered WMS Solutions to make the payment, finding that the company recruited a Hispanic workforce to the exclusion of other races, then created an abusive and hostile working environment, the judge’s order said.

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Employees told managers about dozens of incidents of physical and verbal harassment, including being struck with objects, dragged across the job site and punched in the face and chest, according to the judge’s findings.

Representatives of WMS could not be reached Monday.

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“The harassment reported by the employees working for WMS was horrific,” said Oscar L. Hampton III, the labor department’s regional solicitor, in Monday’s announcement. “Federal contractors in every business, including construction, are bound by the equal protections for employees and applicants they agree to follow in exchange for a contract with the federal government.”

The judge, within the U.S. Department of Labor, said the company violated federal equal employment opportunity rules between February 2011 and January 2012 by intentionally using race and ethnicity as a determining factor in its hiring process, preferring to hire Hispanic laborers and failing to hire workers of other races. The judge found that if WMS had used a race-neutral section process, it would have hired 160 additional non-Hispanic workers.

The judge ordered WMS to make the payment and implement a zero-tolerance anti-harassment policy.

WMS also discriminated in its compensation, the labor department said, steering female laborers to lower-paying job assignments and paying women a lower hourly rate than men.

The Labor Department had filed a lawsuit against the firm in 2015, accusing it of harassing and discriminating against its Hispanic construction workers.

The judge issued the determination Monday after an evaluation by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.

The judge also ordered WMS Solutions to develop a zero-tolerance policy prohibiting harassment, intimidation, threats and retaliation, and to train managers supervisors and employees on equal employment opportunity rules.

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