APPEAL PLANNED: Hiring Discrimination Lawsuit

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The lawyer representing up to 6,000 African-American plaintiffs in an employment discrimination lawsuit against the state of Iowa says he will appeal a judge’s dismissal of the case.

“This was a step forward, but we’re disappointed that it wasn’t a bigger step forward from this judge,” said Thomas Newkirk. “We will appeal it and keep fighting to expose the reality of how bias works in the system.”

Iowa Fifth Judicial District Judge Robert J. Blink dismissed the case Tuesday, ruling that evidence presented by the plaintiffs did not prove hiring and promotion discrepancies between blacks and whites were caused by discrimination. But it also asked the state why it wasn’t using existing tools and policies to see whether it was fulfilling its goals as an Equal Opportunity Employer.

In a press release, Iowa State Attorney General Tom Miller praised Blink’s ruling, calling it a “thoughtful decision (that) is based on the law and the facts of the case.”

“The plaintiffs had an expert who testified that even if the agencies didn’t know the race of the applicants, that somehow in a subconscious way they did know and discriminated against African-Americans,” Miller said in a press release. “Judge Blink has rejected this claim as clearly as he should have.”

The case, Pippen v. State of Iowa, was filed in 2007. It is the first large-scale legal case to argue that subconscious biases held by whites against African-Americans influenced decisions about hiring and promotions. It included 32 named plaintiffs, three of whom have since died, who said they were rejected for promotions or jobs with the Iowa state government and agencies between July 1, 2003 and the date of the ruling. Newkirk said there are currently 30 individual claims on file.

As evidence, it cited the Implicit Association Test, created by researchers to measure subconscious bias. A meta-analysis of test results from several different studies showed that up to 70% of white test takers nationwide, regardless of age, gender or self-reported attitudes of tolerance, showed a measurable preference for whites over blacks. This was the case even for people who considered themselves non-racist or progressive.

Newkirk and his legal team argued that if the test were given to hiring managers within the state agencies of Iowa, it would show roughly the same results and stand as evidence of bias that could have resulted in discrimination against African-American employees and job applicants.

But Blink said that there wasn’t enough evidence to support that assumption.

Newkirk said Wednesday he plans to ask the state of Iowa to allow its hiring managers to take the Implicit Association Test.

“This case was about trying to expose the reality of how established bias is and how it can affect the equality of certain groups,” Newkirk said. “African-Americans in particular have a lot of discrimination in their past. I think most people, regardless of whether they are conservative or liberal, would agree that there are currents of past racism that flow forward to today, but not everyone admits that.”

Beverly Couch, a plaintiff who said she was passed over after she applied for “hundreds” of positions and promotions within the state government, said she plans to be part of the appeal of Blink’s ruling.

“I’m very disappointed, mainly because this is state government and state government should be an example for all — for the whole state,” said Couch, who worked 16 years with three state agencies in Iowa. “Instead of being a good example, they’re fighting it.”

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