Villaume Industries, a maker of wooden pallets and trusses in Eagan, will pay $90,000 to settle a 16-month investigation by the state into what a top official called "blatant gender discrimination."

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights announced the settlement Monday in which Villaume also committed to take sweeping steps to redress past hiring practices and create an inclusive and welcoming workplace.

"This settlement is fundamentally about transforming everything about the hiring, recruitment, training, etc., by Villaume to ensure that women are not turned away simply because they are women," Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero said.

Leaders at Villaume Industries did not return calls and e-mails for comment. In filings related to the case, the company denied violating state employment laws.

The Department of Human Rights began looking into Villaume's hiring practices in November 2019 after learning that the company had instructed an employment placement agency not to refer any female applicants for open jobs, according to the state.

The investigation found that Villaume did not have any women working in entry-level production jobs, the largest portion of its workforce of about 200. At comparable Twin Cities businesses, women account for 25% to 30% of those positions.

"Refusing to hire women is blatant discrimination," Lucero said. "And that is what we allege is what's occurring here."

In addition to the civil penalty, Villaume agreed to hire at least one qualified woman for every three employees from its applicant flow over the next two years.

Employees and managers must undergo annual anti-bias, cultural humility and other workplace training programs and to establish relationships with college placement organizations, labor unions and other community groups that help employers recruit qualified women.

Villaume also agreed to amend recruitment materials to explicitly state the company welcomes and values women in the workplace.

Of the penalty, $60,000 will go to the state general fund; $25,000 will go to the Department of Human Rights to pay for the cost to monitor compliance; and Villaume will make a $5,000 donation to an organization that supports the advancement of women in the workplace. It must report hiring data to the state every 90 days for the next four years.

Founded in 1882 by French cabinetmaker Eugene Villaume, the company has been under family leadership for four generations, according to its website. In February, Villaume was purchased by U.S. LBM Holdings, Inc., one of the nation's largest building products distributors.

The agreement ends the ongoing investigation. But Lucero believes that working with companies such as Villaume to arrive at broad agreements that reach beyond financial penalties will help achieve a more fair and robust labor market for all.

"We recognize that you don't fix it just in one place," Lucero said. "You can't just say, 'Hire women.' You have to fix problems recruiting. You can't just say, 'Recruit.' You have to be intentional about creating a pipeline. We know there is a lot of work that has to go into making systems change. That is being reflected throughout the entire settlement agreement."

Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335