NEW YORK - An amended complaint filed in a federal lawsuit alleges that the U.S. Census Bureau ignored a pointed, detailed warning by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that its screening process for hiring more than 1 million temporary census workers could result in massive racial and ethnic discrimination (Johnson, et al. v. Locke, No. 1:10cv3105, S.D. N.Y.).
A coalition of civil rights organizations on Aug. 5 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 new evidence in a case that seeks 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 commenced in April. Plaintiffs in the case are Eugene Johnson of Bronx, N.Y., Evelyn Houser of Philadelphia, Sandra Anderson of Albuquerque, N.M., Anthony Gonzalez of Riverview, Fla., Ignacio Riesco of Lynn, Mass., Precious Daniels of Detroit and Felicia Rickett-Samuels of Stamford, Conn. The plaintiffs are seeking to create a national class of all those African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans deprived of their opportunity to obtain census jobs.
The Census Bureau illegally screened out applicants with often decades-old arrest records for minor or unconvicted offenses that typically would not have deterred other employers including other federal agencies with high security concerns such as the Transportation Security Administration, says the amended complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
In addition, the lawsuit says, the Census Bureau never made clear its procedure for selecting applicants and kept its hiring protocol a "closely guarded secret" for more than a decade - even from Congress.
"Under the discovery process resulting from the filing of the original lawsuit, we uncovered new evidence that clearly shows the Census Bureau designed and implemented a hiring review system they had every reason to know would result in massive discrimination," said Samuel R. Miller of the New York-based law firm Outten & Golden LLP.
The coalition supporting the lawsuit includes Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, D.C., the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, the Community Service Society in New York, the Indian Law Resource Center in Helena, Mont., Community Legal Services Inc. in Philadelphia, LatinoJustice PRLDEF in New York and Public Citizen Litigation Group in Washington, D.C.
According to the amended complaint:
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.
Applicants were subject to FBI background checks. If the FBI found an arrest in the applicant's past, the applicant had just 30 days to produce the "official court documentation" showing disposition of the case if they wanted to remain eligible for employment. Despite knowing this requirement would adversely impact minorities more than whites, the Census Bureau continued to use the screen. The result: about 90 percent of those with arrest records never pursued applications.
The suit charges the Census Bureau with being reckless, if not intentional, in eliminating from this public service a larger percent of minority applicants than white applicants.
The case is assigned to U.S. Magistrate Judge Frank Maas.
Download the amended complaint.