Judge Approves Settlement of Black Probation Officers’ Bias Suit
A federal judge gave final approval Friday to a negotiated settlement of a 6-year-old civil rights lawsuit filed by black probation officers against Los Angeles County.
U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder said the agreement was fair and reasonable, but she retained jurisdiction in the case to ensure that the terms are carried out faithfully.
Without admitting any wrongdoing, the probation department agreed not to engage in any hiring or promotion practices that have a “disparate adverse impact” on African Americans, Latinos or other minority groups.
The class action suit, originally filed by the Black Probation Officers Assn., was subsequently joined by the Los Angeles County Latino Employees Assn.
While African Americans have constituted about half of the department’s work force for the last 20 years, only about a quarter have made it into the department’s upper ranks, according to the lawsuit.
They blamed the use of subjective, vague and often shifting standards for determining qualifications; the naming of acting managers to avoid having to promote minorities and the concentration of black officers in inner-city areas.
The Latino employees group accused the department of failing to recruit effectively in the Latino community and refusing to allow open competition for all entry-level jobs. They said discrimination was particularly acute against Latinas, who are often confined to dead-end clerical posts.
The department, which employs about 4,000 people, said in the agreement that its hiring and promotion policies comply with all applicable federal and state anti-discrimination laws.
The department also said that any minority underrepresentation is “the product not of its policies, but of social and economic forces beyond its control.”
Nonetheless, the agency agreed to immediately implement changes in the way it recruits and promotes employees.
These include establishing a “clear, consistent and predictable” set of guidelines for evaluating employees and candidates for new jobs; increasing reliance on interviews in deciding promotions; giving at least 30 days’ notice for job openings; improving recruitment efforts in the Latino community; and ensuring that job interview panels do not unjustifiably exclude members of the same race or national origin as the applicants.
The lawsuit also accused the probation department of shortchanging offices in minority areas of staff and other resources.
According to the settlement, the department will devise a new method of allocating caseloads to its branches for juvenile and adult services. It will also retain the Rand Corp. think tank as an outside consultant.
In addition, it agreed to spend an extra $600,000 to $1.4 million a year to beef up staffing at seven inner-city offices: Firestone, Centinela, Crenshaw, South-Central, Kenyon Justice Center, East Los Angeles and North Hollywood.
Eight probation workers named as plaintiffs in the suit will share a $350,000 award from the county. An additional $615,000 will go to employees who took certain promotional exams and were rejected, and $900,000 is to be paid to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.
Richard P. Byrne, former presiding judge of the Los Angeles Superior and Juvenile Courts, was named to monitor the settlement and mediate any disputes that might arise.
Several probation workers appeared in court Friday to register their opposition to the settlement.
Ron M. Daniels, a youth services officer who has worked for the department since 1973, told Snyder that the settlement provides no compensation for employees who were “short-stopped” early in their careers and could not qualify to apply for promotions.
In a written opposition filed with the court, Daniels said the settlement would benefit probation department employees who suffered the least, including some who he said fostered the department’s discriminatory practices.
He accused the plaintiffs’ lawyers of having “grown weary of the case” and settling for less. And he predicted that Snyder would be “perpetually pestered with trivial complaints by a recalcitrant defendant who has neither admitted liability nor has any intention of being forced to comply.”
Kevin S. Reed, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, said he respected Daniels’ feelings but disagreed that the attorneys had lost interest in the case.
“By no means does the agreement create the end of our work,” he said. “We will be actively monitoring the department’s compliance in the years ahead. . . . We have a tremendous amount of work ahead of us.”
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