Blacks in Iowa Argue Biases Kept Them Unemployed

Blacks in Iowa Argue Biases Kept Them Unemployed

A judge will soon decide whether to grant 6,000 African-Americans monetary damages for unfair hiring practices used by Iowa state government agencies.

Published February 17, 2012

Justice for thousands of African-American Iowa employees and applicants could soon be coming.


In the largest class-action lawsuit of its kind, and after years of litigation, a judge will soon decide whether to grant the groups monetary damages for unfair hiring practices used by every agency of Iowa state government that the plaintiffs say disadvantaged them for decades.


The 6,000 African-Americans say they were passed over for state jobs and promotions since 2003. Dissimilar to many discrimination cases that claim the plaintiffs faced overt racism or discriminatory hiring tests, the plaintiffs’ lawyers argue that the managers subconsciously favored whites across state government. As a result, Blacks were unlikely to be called back for interviews, get hired or be promoted.


"The decision will be important. It will be certainly looked at outside of Iowa," University of Washington psychology professor Anthony Greenwald, an expert on implicit bias who testified on behalf of the plaintiffs, told the Associated Press.


Over the years, similar cases against local governments have failed. Experts say that proving broad bias is extraordinarily difficult and that a plethora of factors could explain the differences.


A similar theory case failed last year, as a class-action lawsuit against Wal-Mart was disqualified by the U.S. Supreme Court. The lawyers argued the company discriminated against women in pay and promotion practices, but the justices found the case to be too broad and too unspecific of considering a hiring practice as discriminatory.


With discrimination cases arising across the country frequently, however, the judge’s decision may be monumental when considering whether disadvantaged groups such as Blacks face employment discrimination in subtle ways.


"Clearly, the problem is not in Iowa alone, but we believe Iowa is 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," Class Attorney Thomas Newkirk said.


The judge could award damages and mandate changes in state personnel policies. 


A decision is expected in the coming weeks.


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 (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Written by Danielle Wright


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