March 30, 2005

Two Blows Against Racism In Government Employment

We've seen two jury verdicts today ripping governemnt employers who use race as a deciding factor in hiring, firing, and promotion. One case comes from New Orleans, the other from Milwaukee.

The New Orleans case involves the mass firing of employees in the district attorney's office. Upon taking office in 2003, DA Eddie Jordan fired 53 of 77 non-lawyers in the office and hired black replacements.

Under U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval's instructions, jurors had to find Jordan liable if they concluded the firings were racially motivated. Jordan has acknowledged he wanted to make the office more reflective of the city's racial makeup, but he denied he fired whites just because they are white. In fact, he said, he did not know the race of the people fired.

The law bars the mass firing of a specific group, even if the intent is to create diversity.

Both sides agree on the facts of the unusual case: eight days into his term, Jordan fired 53 of 77 white workers who were not lawyers — investigators, clerks, child-support enforcement workers — and replaced them with blacks. Some seven out of 10 whites were fired, to be replaced by blacks.

Months later, 44 of the whites sued him, and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission later made a preliminary finding that Jordan had been racially biased. One of the plaintiffs eventually dropped out of the suit.

But Jordan has insisted that he paid no attention to the race of his support staff. He has portrayed himself as more focused on the legal staff than the support staff — keeping, he pointed out, 56 white assistant district attorneys.

Jordan and a top deputy who testified have admitted that experience wasn't necessarily their top consideration. Instead, they have made it plain they were looking to populate the office with loyalists.

The whites' lawyers concentrated on showing that many of those who were fired had far more experience and scored higher in job interviews than blacks who were either hired anew or kept on.

Could you imagine the outcry if, in an agency where minorities are over-represented based upon their share of the population (say the EEOC), there were a mass firing of minorities so that whites could be fired to reflect the ethnic makeup of the country? No administrator would even consider such a move, nor should they. Why, then, did Jordan think he could get away with what is clearly the explicit use of racial criteria as the deciding factor in employment?

And then there is the Milwaukee case. A jury determined that 17 white officers were discriminated against a cummulative total of 144 times in the selection of minority candidates for positions as police captains by former Chief Arthur Jones.

Jones said he was disappointed by the verdict.

"I believe that it is a blow to diversification, and I think that's very important to a municipal police department, especially here in Milwaukee," he said.

Jones also defended his record, saying that his promotions included four white females, three black females, two black males, two Hispanic males and one male Pacific Islander with an "understanding" that more than half his 41 promotions to captain were white men.

"I think the numbers speak for themselves," Jones said. "I don't see where any discrimination against white males took place."

Each of the 17 plaintiffs asked for $300,000, an immediate promotion to captain if applicable - two are now captains, two others are retired - and other punitive damages in the initial lawsuit. Testimony in the damages trial is expected to take three days, Curran said, then, the same jury will deliberate over what each plaintiff deserves.

During the trial, Rettko methodically explored how promotions to captain occurred under Jones' leadership.

Under Jones, as under other Milwaukee police chiefs, a candidate for a captaincy was nominated by the chief, then sent to the Fire and Police Commission for approval. The commission rarely levies criticism of a candidate - only one of Jones' nominations received a single negative vote - but the commission sees only one candidate at a time. Several commissioners testified that their roles were to make sure the chief's nominations were qualified to do the job, not to weigh them against other potential nominees. In his testimony, Jones admitted that he picked his nominees mostly by his personal evaluations of their skills, without consulting résumés, personnel evaluations or the men's permanent records in the Milwaukee Police Department.

Rettko sent each of his plaintiffs to the stand to discuss his credentials at length and his thoughts about how those who were promoted compared. Often times, the comparison favored the 17 plaintiffs, which Rettko underscored by repeating that everyone Jones promoted to captain after less than two years in a lieutenant's job was not a white male.

Incredible. Skin-color and genitalia were mor eimportant than qualifications in promotion to senior positions in the police department. makes you feel safe from criminals, doesn't it.

And the worst part is that it will be the taxpayers, not the guilty parties, who will end up paying for the malfeasance in office on the part of these racial bigots.

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