Education Department, black employees settle bias case

A U.S. District Court has finalized a $4 million settlement between the Department of Education and 1,100 current and former black employees who alleged they had been improperly denied promotions. The settlement--which received preliminary approval in July--also provides retroactive promotions to 34 employees, bringing an end to a class action case that began in 1991. The case included all black employees in the competitive service between Grades 11 and 15 who worked at Education's headquarters between February 1991 and June 2000. "We will have a forward-looking remedy that benefits not just these employees [included in the class action], but ones afterwards," said Avis Sanders of the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, which represented the employees in the case. The case began in 1991, when a number of black employees alleged they had not been allowed to compete for promotions in the competitive service. Both sides agreed to bring in a mediator in 1996 when negotiations stalled. Under the settlement, Education will also make a series of changes in how it handles promotions at headquarters, including:
  • Posting vacancy announcements for GS 11-15 positions for a minimum of 10 days.
  • Providing supervisors with guidance to assure fairness in duties and promotions
  • Requiring written approval for all competitive selections for GS 11-15 positions.
While the department admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement, the plantiffs' attorneys said they had succeeded at demonstrating the harmful effect that the agency's promotion practices had had on black employees. "It is safe to say that [the Department of Education] would not have settled if we had not showed them that these practices were having a discriminatory effect on their employees," said Sanders. "To Education's credit, when we showed them this discriminatory effect, they worked with us to see how their promotion policies could be changed." After the initial court hearing in July, the agency sent notice of the settlement to current and retired employees. No one objected to the terms of the settlement, a response that Sanders described as "very unusual." "I want to thank all parties for the serious work that went into reaching this agreement," said Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley in a statement following the initial approval of the settlement in July. "This agreement not only provides relief to the employees of the class, but also puts in place a strong and constructive means for making available new job opportunities for all department employees." The Department of Education maintains a Web site providing information on the case.
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