The U.S. Census Bureau ignored a pointed and detailed warning by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that its screening process for hiring more than one million temporary census workers could result in massive racial and ethnic discrimination, according to new evidence in a federal lawsuit.
A coalition of civil rights organizations, including Public Citizen, today filed an amended complaint in a class action lawsuit against the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Census Bureau’s parent agency, citing the EEOC’s warning along with other newly uncovered evidence. The groups seek compensation for more than 100,000 minorities who were not selected for census work because of unprosecuted arrests and old, minor and irrelevant convictions for offenses such as unlawful assembly and loitering.
The original lawsuit was filed in April. The updated complaint includes new plaintiffs as well as the evidence about the EEOC warning. The plaintiffs are seeking to create a national class of all those African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans illegally deprived of their opportunity to obtain census jobs.
They maintain that the Census Bureau illegally screened out applicants with often decades-old arrest records for minor or un-convicted offenses that typically would not have deterred other employers including other federal agencies with high security concerns.
The federal EEOC, in a detailed letter written by the agency’s Acting Chair Stuart J. Ishimaru dated July 10, 2009, criticized the Census Bureau for potential racial discrimination, saying the screening process “suggests that the Census Bureau’s approach is overbroad and may run afoul” of the law.
“Unless there is a record that an arrest resulted in a conviction, an arrest in itself is not evidence that a person engaged in the conduct alleged. Therefore, without confirmation, the Census Bureau should not disqualify people based on an arrest record,” the EEOC letter said.
Noted Adam T. Klein, co-counsel in the case at Outten & Golden:
As a precondition for employment, the Bureau required applicants who had ever been arrested to produce official court documentation — within 30 days — showing the disposition of all arrests, even if those arrests were so long in the past or so minor that the probability of any new brush with the law was essentially zero.
The Bureau knew full well that the burden of obtaining these records would be too great an obstacle for over 90 percent of these applicants. “Considering the fact that many of the applicants’ records had been expunged, and that many of the offenses were minor, very old and non-job related, the federal government clearly acted unlawfully under the Civil Rights Act.