Justice Department Settles Allegations of Employment Discrimination in Promotion of Police Sergeants in New Jersey
WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice announced today that it has entered into a settlement that, if approved by the court, will resolve the department’s allegations that the state of New Jersey and the New Jersey Civil Service Commission (collectively “New Jersey”) violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by discriminating against African-Americans and Hispanics in the promotion of police sergeants throughout the state.
Title VII’s prohibitions of discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin or religion proscribe not only intentional discrimination, but also the use of employment practices (e.g., written examinations and qualification standards) that result in disparate impact, unless the employer can prove that such practices are job related and consistent with business necessity. The United States’ complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey in Newark, alleges that New Jersey’s use of a written examination to select candidates for promotion to police sergeant disproportionately excluded African-American and Hispanic candidates since 2000, and was not proven job related and consistent with business necessity.
“Police officers, whose daily responsibilities include protecting the public and ensuring the safety of others, have the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of race or national origin on the job,” said Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice will challenge discrimination in employment on the basis of race or national origin, whether that discrimination is intentional or the result of promotional practices that have discriminatory impact. The department commends New Jersey for working to put in place new promotion procedures that comply with Title VII and to provide relief to those African-American and Hispanic officers who have been harmed by the prior practices challenged by the department.”
Under state law, the New Jersey Civil Service Commission is responsible for establishing procedures for the promotion of law enforcement officers in local jurisdictions participating in the state’s civil service system. According to the United States’ complaint, the state’s pass/fail use of its written examination for screening candidates for promotion to police sergeant, and its use of candidates’ scores on the written examination to certify candidates in descending rank order on eligible lists from which appointments were made, resulted in a disparate impact upon African-Americans and Hispanics. The use of the exam in this manner was inappropriate for several reasons, including the fact that the pass/fail use of the written exam did not usefully distinguish between candidates who were qualified to perform the job of police sergeant, nor did the rank-order use of the exam meaningfully distinguish between candidates who were more or less qualified to do the job.
The Justice Department filed a motion today requesting that the court provisionally enter a consent decree executed by the parties setting forth the terms of the settlement; and schedule an initial fairness hearing regarding the terms of the decree.
The consent decree requires that New Jersey no longer use the written examination challenged by the United States for selecting police sergeants and requires that New Jersey develop a new lawful selection procedure that complies with Title VII.
The consent decree, if approved by the court, also requires that New Jersey pay one million dollars into settlement funds towards back pay to African-American and Hispanic officers who were harmed by the promotional practices challenged by the United States and who are determined to be eligible for relief. Additionally, African-American and Hispanic officers determined to be eligible for relief under the consent decree may receive a priority offer of promotion to police sergeant positions. All claimants must pass the new, lawful selection procedure developed by New Jersey under the decree before being considered for a priority promotion and meet the lawful qualifications required of all officers promoted to police sergeant.
More information about Title VII and other federal employment laws is available on the Department of Justice website at www.usdoj.gov/crt/emp/index.html.