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Published in Print: August 2, 2000, as Ed. Dept. Agrees To Pay $4 Million To Settle Bias Suit

Ed. Dept. Agrees To Pay $4 Million To Settle Bias Suit

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The Department of Education has agreed to pay $4 million in damages and reform its promotion practices to settle a lawsuit with employees who had alleged racial discrimination.

About 1,100 current and former employees in the department's Washington office filed a class action in 1991 alleging that certain employment practices had the effect of denying promotions to African-American employees. The lawsuit marked the first of its kind against the federal agency. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley hailed the agreement in a written statement July 7.

"Today's settlement of the discrimination class complaint is a victory for all employees of the [department]," he said. "This agreement not only provides relief to the employees of the class, but also puts in place a strong and constructive means for making available new job opportunities for all department employees."

A lawyer for the employees said she was also pleased with the settlement agreement, which was filed July 6 with the U.S. District Court here.

"This is the result of a long period of negotiation . . . in which we struggled to make changes to the personnel system [at the department]," said Avis L. Sanders, a staff attorney for the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. She said those changes were the "primary hope" of the plaintiffs, adding that she believes "they'll go a long way toward making it a more fair system of promotions."

Education Department officials did not admit wrongdoing under the agreement, which lawyers on both sides said is standard practice in such legal arrangements.

"We've been very careful to say that this does not mean we are admitting liability," said William H. Haubert, an assistant general counsel for the department. "It really reflects an intent by both sides to work out the issues."

Mr. Haubert cautioned that a federal judge still must approve the settlement.

Systemic Changes Planned

The lawsuit alleged discrimination in the promotion of employees in federal pay grades 11-15, which currently represent a salary range from $43,000 to $110,000 a year. Beyond monetary relief, 34 participants in the suit will be eligible for promotions as a result of the settlement.

Under the terms of the agreement, the department has committed to changes to its promotions process, including revising the way it posts job vacancies, develops job-qualification materials, and selects employees for promotions.

The changes are aimed at increasing opportunities for advancement among all employees and improving communication within the department, according to a department news release. The idea is that all employees will gain a better understanding of opportunities available inside the agency, as well as any promotions and other personnel changes that occur.

The settlement does not provide for any hiring or promotion quotas based on race or for the displacement of anyone from a current job, the agreement notes.

As spelled out in the agreement, $4 million will go to the employees covered by the lawsuit, to be divided among them based on a formula. Nearly 900 of the employees involved in the suit still work in the department.

The department's Washington office has almost 3,600 employees; the office had roughly 3,400 when the lawsuit was filed nine years ago. Currently, the department employs nearly 5,000 people nationwide.

Vol. 19, Issue 43, Page 30

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