Landmark Settlement Reached in Census Bureau Employment Discrimination Hiring Case

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 20, 2016

Contact: John Garcia, Director of Communications, 212-739-7513, 917-673-9095 or jgarcia@latinojustice.org

NEW YORK, April 19, 2016 -- After six years of difficult litigation, the United States Department of Commerce today entered into a landmark class action settlement in Gonzalez et. al. v. Penny Pritzker, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce,(formerly, Houser v. Pritzker) resolving the claims of African American and Latino plaintiffs whose employment applications for over one million temporary jobs for the 2010 decennial census had been rejected by the De-partment’s Census Bureau by using an unlawful criminal background check policy to screen applicants. About four million applicants had sought temporary jobs involving data collection and door-to-door requesting information from residents for the 2010 decennial census

Plaintiffs who were represented by Outten & Golden LLP and co-counsel including LatinoJustice PRLDEF had asserted that the Census Bureau’s flawed hiring procedures violated Ti-tle VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act because of their substantial adverse impact on African Americans and Latinos who were arrested at much higher rates than whites, often for the same crimes, such as minor drug possession and use. U.S. Magistrate Judge Frank Maas in October 2014 issued a ruling certifying that approximately 200,000 Latino applicants could be added to the previously certified class of nearly 250,000 African American applicants who had been denied employment because of the Census Bureau’s criminal background check policies and practices for purposes of a liability finding.

In a court filing today with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, plaintiffs’ Counsel have asked the court to preliminarily approve the settlement and issue an order requiring the notification of all class members of the settlement, and to set a date for a final ap-proval hearing. If approved by the court, the Commerce Department will provide $15 million for the creation of a settlement fund that will support a Records Assistance Project which will be administered by Cornell University’s College of Industrial and Labor Relations. to assist class members opting-in to obtain free help clearing errors in their criminal back-ground records; and other class members opting in employment consideration during the 2020 Census temporary field job hiring, and payment of plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees and costs. The final settlement will require a forthcoming fairness hearing and court approval. The pending settlement agreement can be read here.

Juan Cartagena, LatinoJustice’s President and General Counsel stated, “We have an excellent victory. With over 70 million people in the U.S. having arrest records, 35 percent of all arrests never lead to prosecutions or convictions. African-Americans and Latinos suffer disproportionately high percentages of arrests and disparate treatment in employment opportunities compared to Whites.” “This settlement will require the Census Bureau to replace its arbitrary and racially discriminatory use of criminal records and develop a rational job related method to determine whether an applicant has a criminal history which justifies his or her rejection from these essentially entry level jobs,” said Adam Klein, the lead attorney for the Plaintiffs and the head of the class action practice group at Outten & Golden LLP.

LatinoJustice’s Senior Counsel Jackson Chin added, “This is a hopeful settlement with ramifications for federal employment practices. We look forward to a new day in non-discriminatory hiring and fair recruitment policies. This was an important civil rights case that underscored much needed economic and social justice reform.”

The settlement comes on the eve of the U.S. Justice Department designated National Reentry Week (April 24 – 30). “Many private employers use overbroad criminal background checks to screen out the millions of persons who have criminal records consigning them to a lifetime of struggle to find employment,” said Ossai Miazad, one of the Plaintiffs’ attorney and the head of the discrimination and retaliation practice group at Outten & Golden LLP. “We are hopeful that these employers will respond to the Government’s call, determining that it makes more sense to adopt fair and reasonable hiring practices rather than risk expensive litigation and exposure as a bad corporate citizen whose practices prevent qualified citizens from re-entering society, benefiting their communities, families and themselves.”

The named plaintiffs include Anthony Gonzalez, Precious Daniels, Alexis Mateo, Felicia Rickett-Samuels, Chynell Scott, Scotty Desphy, and Edward Zahnle. The two original named plaintiffs, Evelyn Houser and Eugene Johnson, passed away during the pendency of the case. The class members are 1) all African American applicants who sought temporary employment during the 2010 Decennial Census and claim to have been harmed by Census’s 30-day Letter, its Adjudication Criteria, or both; and 2) all Latino applicants who sought temporary employment during the 2010 Decennial Census and claim to have been harmed by Census’s 30-day Letter, its Adjudication criteria, or both.

The plaintiffs’ legal team includes Mr. Klein and other lawyers from Outten & Golden LLP; LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Community Service Society, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, the Indian Law Resource Center, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the Center for Constitutional Rights.

The case is “Evelyn Houser, et al., v. Penny Pritzker, Secretary, U.S. Department of Commerce,” No. 1:10-cv-03105-FM, in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York. Additional information about the lawsuit, and the settlement, is available here.

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