Civil Rights Division Announces Plan to Target Public Employers

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During his recent State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama confirmed the news that some employers feared. During his address, President Obama stated that the Civil Rights Division (CRD) of the Department of Justice (DOJ) will begin aggressively pursuing employment discrimination claims. The President's statement reiterated the CRD's December 2009 message to Congress that they will be increasing prosecution and litigation efforts in this area.

In December 2009, Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for civil rights, announced the CRD's intention to file more class action "pattern or practice" discrimination suits against state and local governments. Class action suits involve large groups of plaintiffs, and the term "pattern or practice" refers to alleged widespread discrimination, typically when dealing with decisions involving new hires or promotions. In a typical case, the CRD will allege that an employment practice, such as a test or physical ability requirement, unlawfully discriminates against a certain protected class of individuals because fewer members of that class are selected. This makes public employers who hire large numbers of employees each year, for example prison guards or police officers, susceptible to discrimination claims based on latent defects in their selection methods or tests.

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