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Rhode Island Pays $380,419 to Settle Prison Guard Hiring Discrimination Suit

In December 2019, the Providence Journal received a requested breakdown of money paid to applicants for prison guard positions with the Rhode Island Department of Corrections (DOC). The DOC sent a spreadsheet of 251 payments of between $286.63 and $3,096.36, totaling $380,419.

The money was part of a September 2017 settlement of a discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2014. The lawsuit alleged the DOC’s practice of subjecting guard applicants to written and video examinations eliminated minorities at far greater rates than whites. The DOJ said that since 2000, 59 percent of Black, 67 percent of Hispanic, and 33 percent of White job applicants had been screened out.

In court documents, the DOJ estimated “an additional 52 African-American applicants and an additional 55 Hispanic applicants would have been hired by the State as correctional officers … absent the disparate impact of the pass/fail use of the initial and revised written exams and the video exam.”

The Journal found it curious that the number of payments vastly exceeded the number of potential claimants cited in the settlement agreement and that the persons receiving the payments were only identified by their initials.

According to Kathleen Kelly, executive legal counsel to the DOC, “The individuals who received the money are claimants who failed the DOC correctional officer entrance exam at some time between 2000 and 2013 and filed for compensation with the Department of Justice under the terms of the agreement. In weighing the balance between the identification of these private citizens, along with the amount of money each received, against the public’s right to disclosure I have determined that these individual’s privacy rights take precedence.”

This seems to violate a state law that says, “Settlement agreements of any legal claims against a government agency shall be deemed public records.” DOC officials claim the state does not know whom the payments were made to because that was determined by the DOJ.

The settlement agreement also required the DOJ to give priority hiring status to 18 Black and 19 Hispanic claimants who were screened out of the hiring process between 2000 and 2013, award them retroactive seniority, and make back payments to the state pension fund on their behalf.

The DOC said it deployed a new examination in August 2019 and was seating a new class of guard trainees. See: United States of America v. State of Rhode Island Department of Corrections et al., USDC (D.R.I.), Case No. 1:14-cv-00078. 


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Related legal case

United States of America v. State of Rhode Island Department of Corrections et al.