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The federal government has accused a Buffalo firm that provides temporary workers to businesses of sex and race discrimination.

EGW Temporaries Inc. of 1700 Clinton St. allows businesses to place orders for temporary employees of a certain race or gender, the federal government charges in a lawsuit.

"EGW was allowing customers to say, 'I want no blacks for this job,' or 'Women only for this job,' " said Elizabeth Grossman, a supervisory attorney for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The commission's suit claims that the "discriminatory job orders" occurred in at least 83 instances in recent years.

"That is discriminatory conduct. Employers have to realize that they can't use temporary employment agencies to discriminate, and employment agencies have to realize that they can't take discriminatory job orders from their customers . . . It's unfortunate and hard to believe that, in the year 2000, we still have this kind of thing going on."

EGW, which provides laborers and clerical workers for local businesses, is one of the largest providers of "temp" workers in Western New York.

Company president Thomas Wach denies the allegations and says the company plans to fight them in court.

"We don't feel we've discriminated against anybody," Wach said. "It's always a struggle to find temporary workers in today's job market, so for us to discriminate against protected classes of people doesn't make sense.

"If we did what the EEOC is alleging, we'd be out of business. We have to follow the guidelines of the federal government, and not discriminate."

The lawsuit, filed Thursday by EEOC attorney Andree M. Peart, claims that the wrongdoing has occurred at least since 1994.

The federal commission claims that EGW used code words on its paperwork to allow customers to ask for workers of certain races or gender. Peart said she could not divulge what the alleged code words were at this point in the litigation.

There were no code words, and the decisions to send workers to a particular job are not based on race or gender, Wach countered. He said his company typically has more than 800 temporary workers employed at various local firms at any given time.

"If you can do the work, if you're qualified, we send you. That's how it works," Wach said.

According to court papers, the federal investigation began with a complaint made by Mary Smith, a former EGW office employee. Smith could not be reached to comment, and federal attorneys declined to give any specifics about her allegations.

The government attorneys also said they could not release the names of local companies that allegedly made requests for temporary workers of a specific race or gender.

"She was let go for reasons of job performance, at least five years ago," Wach said of Smith. "Every time anybody gets let go, it seems they want to blame everybody but themselves."

Wach said his company has been "locally-run and family-owned since 1985 . . . We work hard to maintain a reputation of being upfront with our customers and our employees."

Grossman said the federal job discrimination agency filed a number of similar lawsuits against temporary employment agencies in the 1990s.

A case against a Miami, Fla., employment agency was settled in 1995 for $160,000. In that case, the Miami firm was accused of using code words in their files for African-Americans, Hispanics and other minorities. The lawsuit alleged that temps with blond hair and blue eyes were referred to as "All-American FO," which meant "front office material."

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