Iowa judge rejects suit claiming blacks suffered 'implicit bias' in state hiring

A major class-action suit claiming blacks in Iowa were being denied state jobs due to a new type of prejudice -- "implicit bias" -- was rejected Tuesday morning by an Iowa judge. An appeal is expected.

Pippen v. State of Iowa was a closely watched case that potentially could have affected minority hiring well beyond Iowa. However, District Judge Robert Blink's 56-page ruling concluded that plaintiffs had failed to offer evidence of racial bias "required in discrimination cases by state and federal law," according to the Des Moines Register.

Discrimination claims included that the number of blacks in state jobs failed to reflect, in percentage terms, the number in the state. "Blacks represented 2.9 percent of the state's population in 2010 and 2.4 percent of the state workforce despite applying for state jobs more often, statistics show," noted the Associated Press.

Providing background on the case, the Des Moines Register explained:

Attorneys for the Pippen plaintiffs launched their unusual lawsuit in 2007 based on an unusual claim that Iowa failed to guard against "implicit bias" that can make people subconsciously favor whites over blacks. (...)

University of Washington psychologist Anthony Greenwald testified for the plaintiffs that, based to his nationwide research, roughly three-quarters of the people able to affect hiring decisions in Iowa's state government have an implicit bias that makes them favor whites over blacks -- a bias that could make them discriminate against African-American job applicants without even realizing it.

Greenwald stopped short, however, when asked in court whether he could directly prove that bias is responsible for the statistically low number of blacks who win jobs when they apply for positions with the state.

"I would be reluctant to make that contention in the journal publication context, because I think that requires a higher standard of proof," Greenwald testified. "I can say that it is plausible that implicit bias is a cause of discrimination in the state of Iowa. I regard that as a plausible hypothesis that I would love to test."

Greenwald's testimony was followed by a Rutgers University labor economist who said that blacks who seek work in Iowa's government are statistically less likely to get interviews, less likely to get hired and, if they do get hired, will likely earn less money than their white peers. The chance of gaps that size occurring in a racially neutral process, according to reports by economist Mark Killingsworth, is less than two in a billion. (...)

Deputy Iowa Attorney General Jeffrey Thompson argued in court that a host of reasons could exist for why blacks fare differently statistically when it comes to some kinds of hiring decisions. Thompson contended that the law requires plaintiffs to prove a specific racial bias in terms of specific policies or decisions.

The suit was frightening in that it put white hiring managers in a logically untenable position -- being unable to deny they suffered from "subconscious" or "implicit" bias. If an appeal does indeed go forward, as the Des Register says is likely, it's safe to say that Attorney General Eric Holder will be submitting a friend-of-the-court brief on this one.

A major class-action suit claiming blacks in Iowa were being denied state jobs due to a new type of prejudice -- "implicit bias" -- was rejected Tuesday morning by an Iowa judge. An appeal is expected.

Pippen v. State of Iowa was a closely watched case that potentially could have affected minority hiring well beyond Iowa. However, District Judge Robert Blink's 56-page ruling concluded that plaintiffs had failed to offer evidence of racial bias "required in discrimination cases by state and federal law," according to the Des Moines Register.

Discrimination claims included that the number of blacks in state jobs failed to reflect, in percentage terms, the number in the state. "Blacks represented 2.9 percent of the state's population in 2010 and 2.4 percent of the state workforce despite applying for state jobs more often, statistics show," noted the Associated Press.

Providing background on the case, the Des Moines Register explained:

Attorneys for the Pippen plaintiffs launched their unusual lawsuit in 2007 based on an unusual claim that Iowa failed to guard against "implicit bias" that can make people subconsciously favor whites over blacks. (...)

University of Washington psychologist Anthony Greenwald testified for the plaintiffs that, based to his nationwide research, roughly three-quarters of the people able to affect hiring decisions in Iowa's state government have an implicit bias that makes them favor whites over blacks -- a bias that could make them discriminate against African-American job applicants without even realizing it.

Greenwald stopped short, however, when asked in court whether he could directly prove that bias is responsible for the statistically low number of blacks who win jobs when they apply for positions with the state.

"I would be reluctant to make that contention in the journal publication context, because I think that requires a higher standard of proof," Greenwald testified. "I can say that it is plausible that implicit bias is a cause of discrimination in the state of Iowa. I regard that as a plausible hypothesis that I would love to test."

Greenwald's testimony was followed by a Rutgers University labor economist who said that blacks who seek work in Iowa's government are statistically less likely to get interviews, less likely to get hired and, if they do get hired, will likely earn less money than their white peers. The chance of gaps that size occurring in a racially neutral process, according to reports by economist Mark Killingsworth, is less than two in a billion. (...)

Deputy Iowa Attorney General Jeffrey Thompson argued in court that a host of reasons could exist for why blacks fare differently statistically when it comes to some kinds of hiring decisions. Thompson contended that the law requires plaintiffs to prove a specific racial bias in terms of specific policies or decisions.

The suit was frightening in that it put white hiring managers in a logically untenable position -- being unable to deny they suffered from "subconscious" or "implicit" bias. If an appeal does indeed go forward, as the Des Register says is likely, it's safe to say that Attorney General Eric Holder will be submitting a friend-of-the-court brief on this one.

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