JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SUES SOUTH DAKOTA STATE AGENCY FOR DISCRIMINATION AGAINST NATIVE AMERICAN JOB APPLICANTS AT PINE RIDGE RESERVATION
WASHINGTON - The Justice Department today filed a lawsuit against the South Dakota Department of Social Services (DSS) alleging that at its Pine Ridge Reservation Office, the state agency repeatedly discriminated against Native American job applicants because of their race, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota, alleges that in failing to select well-qualified Native American applicants for several positions in DSS's Pine Ridge Reservation Office, the state agency engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination and violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal statute that prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion.
"Federal law provides all Americans with equal opportunity to compete for jobs on a level playing field free from racial discrimination," said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, Head of the Civil Rights Division. "When employers discriminate against qualified job applicants because of what they look like or where they come from, they violate both the values that shape our nation and the laws that govern it."
According to the complaint, in October 2010, Cedric Goodman, a Native American with supervisory experience as a social worker, as well as several other well-qualified Native Americans, applied for an Employment Specialist position at DSS's Pine Ridge Office. The complaint alleges that after interviewing Goodman and the other Native American candidates who met the employer's objective job qualifications, DSS removed the vacancy and hired no one. The next day, however, DSS reopened the position and ultimately selected a white applicant with inferior qualifications and no similar work experience. The complaint alleges that DSS discriminated against Goodman and other similarly-situated Native American applicants based on their race.
In addition, the complaint alleges that denying Goodman's application was part of a pattern or practice of race discrimination by DSS, where the agency repeatedly removed job postings and used subjective, arbitrary hiring practices to reject qualified Native American applicants for Specialist positions.
Over a two year period beginning in 2010, DSS posted 18 Specialist vacancies for its Pine Ridge Reservation Office. Even though the agency received nearly 40 percent of its applications from Native Americans, DSS hired 11 Whites and only one Native American, while removing six other openings entirely.
The lawsuit seeks declaratory and injunctive relief requiring DSS to implement employment policies, including fair applicant screening and interviewing practices, that prevent racial discrimination in hiring. The United States will also seek to obtain "make whole" relief, including monetary damages, for Goodman and other similarly situated individuals.
"The facts obtained during the investigation by the EEOC are disheartening," said Julianne Bowman, Chicago District Director. "We are pleased that the Department of Justice is filing a lawsuit to resolve the injustices uncovered."
Goodman originally filed a charge of race discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC's Minneapolis Area Office, in the Chicago District, investigated the matter and found reasonable cause to believe that DSS discriminated against Goodman and a class of Native American applicants. After unsuccessful conciliation, the EEOC referred the matter to the Justice Department.
The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division brought this lawsuit as part of a joint effort to enhance collaboration between the Justice Department and the EEOC in the vigorous enforcement of Title VII. Additional information about the division, including a copy of the complaint, can be found online on its website at http://www.justice.gov/crt