Labor Secretary Raymond J. Donovan took public issue yesterday with the Justice Department's view that goals and timetables ought no longer be used in enforcing federal equal employment opportunity laws.

"I believe in goals," Donovan said at a breakfast meeting of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "But I believe in goals that are realistic," he added.

For example, the federal goal of a 6.9 percent employment rate for women on government-funded construction projects may be unrealistic, Donovan said. "There is obvious prejudice" against women in the construction industry, but there may not be enough women willing to take construction jobs to reach that level, Donovan said. He suggested that a more realistic goal might be 3.3 percent.

Assistant Attorney General William Bradford Reynolds, who heads the Justice Department's civil rights division, has said on several occasions that the department no longer will go to court to force goals--suggested hiring levels for members of affected groups--and timetables for meeting those goals on employers convicted of racial or sexual discrimination. Instead, the department will seek "remedies such as back pay, retroactive seniority, reinstatement, hiring and promotional priorities" on a case-by-case basis, Reynolds said.

That approach, however, would seem to leave Justice at cross purposes with Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, which up to now has required affirmative action plans involving goals and timetables for federal contractors.

Donovan said he has "had meetings with the Justice Department" on the function of the contract compliance office "and thought we had an understanding with them."

"I disagree with the statements out of the Justice Department. I intend to meet with that gentleman again," Donovan told the audience.