Denied Jobs, Blacks In Iowa Test New Bias Theory

Iowa African American discrimination lawsuitBy Ryan J. Foley

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) -- After years of litigation, a judge will soon decide whether to grant thousands of black employees and job applicants monetary damages for hiring practices used by every agency of Iowa state government that they say has disadvantaged them for decades.

Experts say the case is the largest class-action lawsuit of its kind against an entire state government's civil service system, and tests a legal theory that social science and statistics alone can prove widespread discrimination.

The plaintiffs - up to 6,000 African-Americans passed over for state jobs and promotions dating back to 2003 - do not say they faced overt racism or discriminatory hiring tests in Iowa, a state that is 91 percent white. Instead, their lawyers argue that managers subconsciously favored whites across state government, leaving blacks at a disadvantage in decisions over who got interviewed, hired and promoted.

Judge Robert Blink's decision, expected in coming weeks, could award damages and mandate changes in state personnel policies or dismiss a case that represents a growing front of discrimination litigation.

Similar cases against local governments have failed because proving broad bias is extraordinarily difficult, with a myriad of possible factors to explain disparities, said David Friedland, a California human resources consultant who is an expert on discrimination in hiring. Success in Iowa could encourage similar lawsuits elsewhere, he said.

"If they are successful in getting the court to agree to that, it probably will come up more," Friedland said. "A monetary award in a case like this is likely to be pretty substantial. ... It will be interesting to see how it comes out."

University of Washington psychology professor Anthony Greenwald, an expert on implicit bias who testified on behalf of the plaintiffs, said the decision would be one of the first of its kind because similar cases against corporations have usually been dismissed or settled before trial.

"The decision will be important. It will be certainly looked at outside of Iowa," he said.

Scholars and employment lawyers have shown a growing interest in implicit bias in the last several years, after Greenwald and other scientists developed the Implicit Association Test to test racial stereotypes. Their research found an inherent preference for whites over blacks - in up to 80 percent of test-takers and among many people who do not consider themselves racist.

The theory hit a legal obstacle last year when the U.S. Supreme Court disqualified a class-action lawsuit against Wal-Mart's pay and promotion practices for women. The court found the class was too broad and failed to challenge a specific hiring practice as discriminatory.

Lawyers defending the state have cited that decision in asking Blink to dismiss the case. But the high court's decision did not specifically reject the theory of implicit bias, and dissenting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that such claims can be allowed.

Class attorney Thomas Newkirk said the science and other evidence that shows disadvantaged groups such as blacks face employment discrimination in subtle ways "is becoming overwhelming."

"Clearly, the problem is not in Iowa alone, but we believe Iowa is the exactly the right place to ask society to take control of this important issue fairly for all races, and to seek a better future for all as a result," he said.

During a monthlong trial last fall, experts called by the plaintiffs' lawyers testified that blacks are hired at lower rates than whites with similar qualifications and receive less favorable evaluations and lower starting salaries. An employment consultant hired by the administration of Gov. Tom Vilsack, who served from 1999 to 2007, warned of hiring disparities between whites and minorities in a report issued after he left office.

Vilsack's successor, Democratic Gov. Chet Culver, issued an executive order requiring agencies to improve the diversity of the workforce. State officials called that evidence of progress, but class lawyers argued it turned out to be ineffective because rules meant to prevent bias still were not followed.

Republican Gov. Terry Branstrad said last fall his administration had ensured agencies were following uniform rules to stop any abuse - but a top state employment official testified days later he'd seen no substantive changes to hiring practices in years. Blacks represented 2.9 percent of the state's population in 2010 and 2.4 percent of the state workforce.

Among those who testified was Charles Zanders, of Waterloo, who was passed over for an interview for a position with the Iowa Communications Network in 2008 despite having worked 29 years in the telecommunications industry.

"I was very angry at that time and felt like I'd been stepped on," Zanders, 60, said.

In a brief submitted in December, plaintiffs' lawyers sought lost wages of about $67 million minus what they earned in the meantime. But in court documents, Newkirk said it was even more important that Blink order changes in the way state officials train managers, screen candidates and track disparities in hiring.

Lawyers working for Attorney General Tom Miller, a Democrat, argued that the plaintiffs failed to show bias across state government.

"The record simply does not support Plaintiffs' charge that some monolithic, immutable force of bias infected the decisions made by every department, at every step, for every job, for every year of the class period," they wrote in a final brief last month.

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Do job interviews using a microphone from a different room include giving any test. Then you hire who ever performs better. How about a lawsuit suing the federal government for affirmative action, how many white people have been passed over due to this racist law. I'm for being fair but NOT to give preference to any race or gender. I'm white and 5'9" should I be able to sue a NBA team for not hiring me? Sometimes you just aren't qualified.

February 21 2012 at 12:22 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Playin' the race card.

February 21 2012 at 12:03 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

The end of the White Race! Obama awarded thousands of black "farmers" millions of $ recently.The number of "farmers" multiplied by 30 after it was found they were refused loans years ago.I really dont want to sound like a racist but enough is enough.

February 20 2012 at 11:37 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Whad Up Girl!

Sorry, but if you're dumb, too bad.

February 20 2012 at 11:09 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

"The plaintiffs - up to 6,000 African-Americans passed over for state jobs and promotions dating back to 2003 - do not say they faced overt racism or discriminatory hiring tests in Iowa, a state that is 91 percent white. Instead, their lawyers argue that managers subconsciously favored whites across state government, leaving blacks at a disadvantage in decisions over who got interviewed, hired and promoted."

what does this tell you?? the PLAINTIFFS do not even think it was racism!! but here comes some attorney who feels that it is racism when a state that is 91% white has mostly white employees. and the evidence the attorney provides for proving racism? 'white people's subsconscious.'

February 20 2012 at 10:49 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

This has got to be a Fing joke right? I mean a judge is'nt really considering to let this BS go through are they? So now not only do "just white people" discriminate, but "white people" do it subconciously? WOW!!!! Thats a joke in itself!!! I have been discriminated against because i was WHITE, and passed over for jobs because of affirmative action, and was told straight to my face i had higher test scores, and job performance than the person they gave the job i was applying for to! I'm sorry, but if i not only out perform you, but my test scores were also much higher than yours why should YOU deserve the job over me? Because you're a minority? I really think the people buying the products that i was building would perfer me building them, then a person who could'nt perform the tasks properly! What's the kicker with my story? I was building cargo vans from the ground up, and they gave a person less knowledgeable, and could'nt even pass the written test for it the job over me!!! So while you all are out there driving one, or riding next to one....... well GOOD LUCK!!!!

February 20 2012 at 10:35 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to yoda1569's comment

The sad fact is, since 1968 discrimation in civil service hiring has been federally mandated against four separate groups. As a white, heterosexual, Christian male, I belong to all four of them.

February 20 2012 at 11:29 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

My husband was recentlyy told he would not be hired because they told him "You don't fit our culteral profile". How's that for BS? That is PC for ."You're too old".

February 20 2012 at 10:18 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

So according to the rationale of this suit, every white person who has been a victim of reverse discrimination by the federal government due to Affirmative Action has the right to sue for damages! If the government weren't already broke from Obama's reckless spending, this would surely cause it to happen!

February 20 2012 at 9:56 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
Lord Skeletor

How about...simply hiring the best qualified, the smartest, and the hardest working people for the job in particular...let the chips fall where they may. If you're Chinese/Black/Eskimo/Indian and you suck at math, suck at engineering, and you really want to work in a nuclear reactor; I would have to say absolutely not, especially if I have somebody with an MA from MIT or Cal Tech in line for the job. Same with government. Do I want really dumb people taking a job in Human Resources, Accounting, or Writing/enforcing laws which are patently stupid or can't pass simple performance tests? Absolutely not. So...what's the answer? Get an education? Work harder? Hell's called "lawsuit." How low our country has's amazing.

February 20 2012 at 9:34 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply

Where's the law suit by unattractive and/or overweight women? We all know good-lookin', well-built gals have an advantage in that category.

February 20 2012 at 9:24 PM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply

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