Stephen Nordness founded Automation Personnel Services in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1990. He says his company, which has branches across the South, has a strict policy against discrimination. Credit: Facebook.com

When Andrea Williams applied for a job through Automation Personnel Services, the temp agency’s branch manager allegedly wouldn’t even give her an application.

“This is a man’s job,” Ashlyn Stockstill told Williams, according to a new government lawsuit against the Alabama-based company.

Stockstill, then running the company’s Baton Rouge, Louisiana, branch, was known for her racial slurs and routine discrimination, two former employees say. She constantly used the N-word and let employers hire temp workers based on race, sex and age, they said.

When people such as Williams made formal discrimination complaints, Stockstill laughed them off, said Vicki Anselmo, one of the former recruiters.

“She’d be like, ‘That nigger bitch, who she think she is? Ain’t nothing gonna happen to me,’ ” Anselmo recalled her former boss saying.

Ashlyn Stockstill is the New Orleans branch manager for Automation Personnel Services.Credit: LinkedIn.com

Perhaps something will happen now. The Birmingham office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Automation last week over Stockstill’s alleged comments to Williams.

“Employers, including staffing agencies, cannot refuse to hire women based on outdated presumptions that women are not capable of performing certain types of jobs,” EEOC regional attorney C. Emanuel Smith said in a statement.

The commission dismisses or resolves the vast majority of its complaints without litigation, and in secret. A lawsuit means a public fight. And it could potentially lead to an agreement for the company to pay back wages and damages or institute companywide changes.

Anselmo, who left in 2014, said she reported Stockstill to upper management, but nothing was done to stop the discrimination. Stockstill went on to lead the New Orleans branch.

In an interview last year, Stockstill told Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, “We don’t discriminate against any race or color or gender or anything of that nature.” She referred questions to Automation officials, who also denied any bias in hiring decisions. Automation didn’t respond to questions about the lawsuit.

Williams, the job applicant, had approached Stockstill about a shipping and receiving job at a fiberglass grating manufacturer in July 2012. She was told that it was difficult and “not suitable for women,” the lawsuit states. Automation hired 55 people, but only one woman, to work at the fiberglass company during that period, according to the EEOC.

Williams filed a formal complaint in October 2012. The commission didn’t issue a finding against the company until January 2016, weeks after Reveal published an investigation into widespread discrimination at Automation Personnel Services. Smith said it’s not unusual for cases to take this long.

The EEOC also is conducting a broader inquiry into discrimination at Automation and is seeking potential witnesses.

The temp agency, for its part, commissioned its own investigation into Reveal’s findings, but kept the results secret.

Will Evans can be reached at wevans@cironline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @willCIR.

 

Will Evans is a senior reporter and producer for Reveal, covering labor and tech. His reporting has prompted government investigations, legislation, reforms and prosecutions. A series on working conditions at Amazon warehouses was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and won a Gerald Loeb Award. His work has also won multiple Investigative Reporters and Editors Awards, including for a series on safety problems at Tesla. Other investigations have exposed secret spying at Uber, illegal discrimination in the temp industry and rampant fraud in California's drug rehab system for the poor. Prior to joining The Center for Investigative Reporting in 2005, Evans was a reporter at The Sacramento Bee. He is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.