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Census Bureau Settles Race Bias Suit By Job Candidates

Law360—Aaron Vehling

The U.S. Census Bureau has settled a long-running suit brought by job applicants who alleged that the agency’s background check policy disproportionately screened out minority applicants, telling a New York federal judge they plan to ask for approval of the pact in March.

Since July 2014, U.S. Magistrate Judge Frank Maas has been considering the government’s bid for reconsideration of his order that certified a class of black job applicants in the suit over the agency's background check policies. But on Thursday he said he won't continue to mull the issue because the parties recently notified him that after mediation they had come to an agreement to settle the suit for unspecified terms, subject to approval by the U.S. Department of Justice.

But just in case their settlement pact fails, Judge Maas left the door open on the possibility of revisiting the class-certification issue.

“In light of this development, the motion is denied without prejudice to its renewal in the event that the settlement is not effectuated,” the judge said.

The suit was first filed in April 2010 and alleged that the Census Bureau's screening of employees based on criminal records established hurdles that disproportionately affected African American and Latino job applicants. The suit alleged a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Judge Maas’ July 2014 class ruling, in addition to certifying a class of black job applicants, also dismissed three named plaintiffs based on a lack of standing, and ruled that the class would not include Latino applicants. Judge Maas said, however, that the applicants would be allowed to amend their complaint and class certification motion to include a “suitable Latino class representative.”

But eventually, after undergoing mediation, the applicants’ attorney Adam Klein of Outten & Golden LLP wrote a letter to Judge Maas on Feb. 8 indicating that the DOJ and the plaintiffs had reached an agreement subject to the agency’s review and approval. 

“The government is taking the necessary steps to seek DOJ approval of the proposed agreement as promptly as it can,” Klein wrote. “That process requires a series of reviews and approval, ultimately, by the Associate Attorney General.”

Klein said the parties anticipated filing their motion for Maas’ approval of the settlement by the beginning of March.

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The plaintiffs are represented by Adam Klein, Lewis M. Steel, Ossai Miazad, Amber C. Trzinski and Sally J. Abrahamson of Outten & Golden LLP; as well as lawyers from the Indian Law Resource Center, the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Community Legal Services Inc., the Community Service Society, the Public Citizen Litigation Group,LatinoJustice PRLDEF and the Center for Constitutional Rights.

The case is Houser et al. v. Pritzker, case number 1:10-cv-03105, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.