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US withholds contracts from 'Pru'

The Labor Department imposed one of its heaviest antidiscrimination penalties in history Monday, barring the giant Prudential Insurance Company of America from government contracts.

The action could cancel insurance policies of hundreds of thousands of federal employees, with premiums exceeding $180 million annually.

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Prudential immediately announced it would seek a federal court injunction to prevent the government with withholding contracts pending final outcome of a court challenge.

Both the government and Prudential said there was no evidence the Newark, N.J.-based company actually practices race or sec discrimination. Prudential said more than 45 percent of the total company work force are women and 15 percent are minorities.

Assistant Labor Secretary Donald E. Elisburg said Prudential is being barred because it refused to give the government access to employment records except under "unacceptable conditions."

At the heart of the dispute, according to Mr. Elisburg, is a government demand that Prudential turn over all computer tapes containing detailed information on employee and applicant history and payroll records.

He said Prudential agreed to provide a printout of such data, at a cost to the government of about $123,000, instead of allowing it to reproduce the tape at a cost of about $15. In addition, he said Prudential refuses to provide records prior to 1976.

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