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Press Release

Justice Department Files Lawsuit Against the State of Rhode Island and the R.I. Department of Corrections Alleging Race and National Origin Discrimination

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

The Justice Department announced the filing of a lawsuit today against the State of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Department of Corrections (RIDOC) alleging that the defendants are engaged in a pattern or practice of employment discrimination against African-Americans and Hispanics in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII).  Specifically, the lawsuit challenges the defendants’ use of a written examination and a video examination to screen and select applicants for entry-level correction officer (CO) positions at RIDOC as part of the department’s ongoing efforts to ensure that state and local government employers utilize non-discriminatory assessment tools in their hiring practices.


The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island, alleges that the defendants require applicants for entry-level CO positions at RIDOC to undertake a multi-step selection process that includes, among other things, a written examination and a video examination taken on the same day.  The complaint further alleges that the manner in which the defendants use the written and video examinations as part of their multi-step selection process disproportionately screens out African-American and Hispanic applicants, resulting in an unjustified disparate impact against these applicants.


Title VII not only prohibits intentional discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin and religion, but also prohibits employment practices that result in a disparate impact upon a protected group, unless the employer can prove that such practices validly predict an applicant’s ability to perform a job or there is a less discriminatory alternative that the employer can use.  The department’s complaint states that the manner in which the defendants use the written and video examinations violates Title VII because such use is not “job related or consistent with business necessity,” as the law requires, and does not validly enable the employer to identify those applicants who are qualified for entry-level CO positions at RIDOC.


The department shares the goal of enabling public employers to hire qualified applicants to perform their critical public safety functions.  In light of its findings and this shared goal, the department is seeking a court order requiring the defendants to stop using the challenged written and video examinations, develop selection procedures for entry-level CO positions at RIDOC that comply with Title VII and provide make-whole relief including, where appropriate, offers of hire, back pay and retroactive seniority, to African-Americans and Hispanics who have been or will be harmed as a result of the defendants’ use of the challenged examinations.


“Bringing an end to practices that have an unjustified discriminatory impact on the basis of race or national origin is a major priority of the Department of Justice,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the Civil Rights Division.  “Employers must be able to show that examinations like those at issue here, that disproportionately screen out large numbers of African-American and Hispanic applicants, validly distinguish between qualified and unqualified applicants for the job.  Otherwise, the examinations will not serve the employer’s purposes and will violate the law.”


Additional information about Title VII and other federal employment laws is available on the Civil Rights Division’s Web site at

Updated August 26, 2015

Press Release Number: 14-144