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Rhode Island Settles Prison Hiring Civil Rights Suit with United States

By Lonnie Burton

On April 24, 2017, the state of Rhode Island and attorneys for the United States Department of Justice (D0J) reached a settlement agreement in a three year old lawsuit over discriminatory hiring practices in the state's department of corrections (RIDOC). The settlement called for, among other things, the state to create new entrance exams for prospective candidates for guard positions.

According to the lawsuit filed in 2014, RIDOC used two examinations in the screening and selection of qualified applicants for entry-level guard positions -- one written and one video. RIDOC had been using this screening system since 2000, according to the complaint. Only those applicants who pass both the written and video exams were placed on an eligibility list for further consideration for employment.

But, according to United States' attorneys who filed the suit, those tests "disproportionately eliminated both African-American and Hispanic applicants for entry-level CO positions at RIDOC from further consideration in the CO hiring process."

According to the lawsuit, the disputed tests eliminated just 12% of white applicants, while at the same time disqualified 46% and 52% of African-American and Hispanic job seekers, respectively. The result, said the government, were violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, codified at 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-6.

"Through the use of these employment examinations, (RIDOC has) engaged in a pattern and practice of employment discrimination against African-American and Hispanics in its selection process," the complaint read.

Details of the settlement, described as "tentative" and a "settlement in principle" pending approval by a U.S. District Court judge, remains under seal until it becomes official. The suit did seek monetary damages for job offers and back pay for the estimated 2,600 candidates who may have been adversely affected by the tests.

A spokesman for the RIDOC said they will work with the DOJ to create new exams for future classes, and that there would be some state money "set aside to compensate those who failed the test for the contested years with priority hiring." Initially, the hiring in the prison system was put on hold pending resolution of the lawsuit, but later resumed using the old tests while the two sides continued talks.

See: United States of America v. State of Rhode Island, No. CA-14-78S (U.S.D.C. RI).

Source: wpri.can

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Related legal case

United States of America v. State of Rhode Island