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NEW YORK — Thousands of African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans have been rejected for jobs by the U.S. Census Bureau during the federal government's massive hiring campaign for this year's census because of systematic discrimination, according to a class action filed April 13 in New York federal court.
Filed on behalf of plaintiffs Eugene Johnson, 48, of New York and Evelyn Houser, 68, of Philadelphia by Outten & Golden LLP and a coalition of leading public interest organizations, the suit is the first of its kind to be filed against a federal agency.
The lawsuit alleges the Census Bureau unlawfully screens out job applicants who have arrest records, regardless of whether the arrest led to an actual criminal conviction. Government records show that more than 70 million people in the U.S. have been arrested, but more than 35 percent of all arrests nationwide never lead to prosecutions or convictions.
The coalition actively supporting the lawsuit as co-counsel includes the Center for Constitutional Rights; Community Legal Services of Philadelphia; Community Service Society of New York; Indian Legal Resource Center of Helena, Mont.; LatinoJustice PRLDEF of New York; Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of Washington, D.C.; and Public Citizen Litigation Group of Washington, D.C.
The lawsuit asserts that Census job applicants are screened out after their names are located in an FBI database, indicating a match with an arrest record. At that point, all job applicants are required by Census to produce official records from any criminal case that shows up on their record, within 30 days. Census does not provide job applicants with copies of their FBI records, so they are unsure whether they are responding to the cases that Census has located. In addition, the official court documentation requested by Census may be impossible to locate because the records have been sealed or expunged — or simply lost or destroyed because they are decades old.
Plaintiffs also assert that Census demands compliance with these burdensome procedures from all job applicants, not distinguishing, for instance, between job applicants who have recent, serious convictions and might not be appropriate for Census work, and those with records of minor, often noncriminal, violations such as loitering or disorderly conduct.
According to the lawsuit, African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans are far more likely to have arrest records and convictions as whites, and so Census's hiring policies discriminate against people of color in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
Adam Klein and Samuel Miller of Outten & Golden LLP represent the plaintiffs, who will seek to have the lawsuit certified as a class action. More information about the lawsuit is available at www.censusdiscriminationlawsuit.com.
The case is Eugene Johnson, et al., v. Gary Locke, Secretary, U.S. Department of Commerce (No. 10-cv-3105, S.D. N.Y.).