Denied Jobs, Blacks in Iowa Test New Bias Theory
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — In a case closely watched by civil rights activists, an Iowa judge will soon decide whether to grant thousands of black employees and job applicants monetary damages for hiring practices used by Iowa state government that they say have disadvantaged them.
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.
“Whenever there is a case like this that goes to trial, it’s of interest to all of us,” said Jocelyn Larkin, executive director of the Impact Fund, a Berkeley, Calif.-based nonprofit that supports employment discrimination lawsuits and has followed the case.