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USA Accuses South Dakota of Racist Hiring

RAPID CITY, S.D. (CN) - Racist hiring practices in South Dakota's Department of Social Services excludes Native Americans from jobs even when they are more qualified than white candidates, the Department of Justice claims in court.

In its Tuesday lawsuit in Federal Court, the United States cites hiring statistics from the beginning of 2010 to the beginning of 2012. In that time, the South Dakota Department of Social Services (DSS) posted openings for 18 "specialist" positions, including employment specialist, economic assistance benefits specialist, and adult services and aging specialists.

"Although approximately 40 percent of the applications it [DSS] received were from Native Americans, DSS ultimately hired 11 (92%) white candidates and one (8%) Native American candidate," the complaint states. "DSS closed the other six vacancies without making a selection. In some cases, DSS passed over a well-qualified Native American candidate in favor of a white applicant with lesser qualifications. In others, DSS closed vacancy announcements rather than select a well-qualified Native American candidate."

Anglo-Indian relations in South Dakota have never been good. It was the site of the Wounded Knee massacre in 1890, and the Pine Ridge standoff with the FBI in 1975. About 12 percent of the state is Indian land, five counties are wholly within reservations, and the Census estimate of 72,000 Indian residents accounts for about 8.8 percent of the state population, though tribal leaders believe their members are undercounted.

In the new lawsuit, the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division cites Cedric Goodman's October 2010 application for a job with DSS as an employment specialist on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Goodman, a Native American, has a bachelor's degree in human services and business administration and has completed 30 hours toward a master's degree. He has five years of experience as a social worker, three and-a-half as a supervisor with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and four years of experience as an employment specialist with South Dakota Job Seekers Services. He met all the objective criteria for job, including knowledge of Native American culture and work experience in a similar position, but the DSS rejected him.

It turned away four other Native American candidates and one white applicant before closing the position on Dec. 12, 2010. The very next day, it reopened the position, eventually hiring a white, recent college graduate whose work experience was primarily in retail and office environments, the complaint states.

Goodman complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, saying that DSS had "a policy of hiring white applicants for the higher-paying specialist positions ... while only hiring Native American applicants for lower-paying positions."

The EEOC found reasonable cause to believe him.

When the DSS did not cooperate with a "voluntary resolution" of the complaint, the EEOC turned the matter over to the Department of Justice.

"Federal law provides all Americans with equal opportunity to compete for jobs on a level playing field free from racial discrimination," Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division said in a statement Tuesday. "When employers discriminate against qualified job applicants because of what they look like or where they come from, they violate both the values that shape our nation and the laws that govern it."

Leveling the playing field is especially crucial on the Pine Ridge Reservation, which is in the nation's poorest counties. Unemployment rates on Pine Ridge are estimated at 52 to 80 or 90 percent. Its per capita income is $4,000, according to a tribal website . Life expectancy on Pine Ridge is the lowest in the Western Hemisphere, except for Haiti, its rate of tuberculosis is eight times the national average and 1 in 4 babies are born with symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome, according to the website.

Uncle Sam asks the court to "enjoin DSS from further discriminating against Goodman and other similarly situated Native American applicants," to hire Goodman in the next available employment specialist position, with back pay, wants DSS ordered to "institute policies and procedures to ensure a non-discriminatory workplace."

The DSS and the Department of Justice declined requests for comment.

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