Suit Accuses Census Bureau of Hiring Bias

Nathan Koppel, Wall Street Journal, April 14, 2010

The U.S. Census Bureau was accused in a lawsuit filed Tuesday of systematically discriminating against minorities in its 2010 census hiring campaign.

In the suit, job applicants claimed the Census Bureau was unlawfully screening out minorities by requiring all applicants to provide court documents related to an arrest, whether or not it resulted in a conviction.

That requirement has illegally deterred many blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans from applying for jobs, according to the complaint, which said these groups are arrested and convicted at rates that “far exceed” those for whites.

It also claimed the Census Bureau improperly excluded job applicants who had been convicted of minor offenses.

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The government hired 48,000 temporary census works in March, about one-third of all the new jobs added last month nationwide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The government is expected to hire hundreds of thousands more census workers in the coming months.

The Census Bureau didn’t return calls for comment. In an earlier interview regarding the bureau’s hiring plans, a spokeswoman said, “We will disqualify anyone with prior convictions or pending charges for certain categories, including murder, sex offenses, robbery, voter fraud, or other crimes that suggest a threat to safety or the integrity of census data.” Applicants with criminal records, she added, won’t automatically be disqualified if they can “conclusively demonstrate that they do not present a current threat.”

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The suit was filed by New York law firm Outten & Golden LLP and seven public-interest organizations on behalf of two job applicants to the 2010 census. The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in New York City, seeks class-action status.

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Hiring for the 2010 census comes as cash-strapped states across the country release thousands of prisoners to trim ballooning prison budgets. The newly freed individuals have struggled to find work in one of the worst economies in decades.

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