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The Justice Department this month filed civil suits under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 against two boards of education, alleging that their method of electing members discriminates against black voters in one case and Hispanic voters in the other.

In the first case, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, the department sued the Wilkes County (Ga.) Board of Education, claiming that half of the county's black population is packed into one "single, grossly overpopulated district ... impermissibly submerg[ing] the voting strength of black citizens."

Although nearly half of Wilkes County's population is black, all five members of the school board are3white. One each was elected from the four districts and the chairman was elected at large.

The second case, filed in U.S. District Court in New Mexico, involves the Roswell (N.M.) Independent School District Board of Education and also includes the Chaves County Board of Commissioners.

Thirty percent of the Roswell population is Hispanic, but only one of the five members of the school board is Hispanic, the department said in its complaint. It charged that an at-large voting system dilutes the voting strength of Hispanics.

The Justice Department last week intervened in a lawsuit on behalf of two white Birmingham, Ala., firefighters who are challenging the promotion of blacks in the city's fire department as discriminatory.

Educators are closely watching this suit and others like it because their outcomes could affect hiring practices for teachers and other employees.

According to the Justice Department's civil-rights division, the city violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 "by pursuing policies and practices that discriminate against white men in promotion to fire lieutenant and fire captain."

In papers filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama on Jan. 14, the department alleged that blacks have been promoted in preference to "demonstrably better-qualified whites" exclusively on the basis of race and without regard to relative qualifications.

The suit asks the court to permanently enjoin the city from promoting blacks over better-qualified whites and to require the city to compensate victims of the allegedly discriminatory policy with promotions, back pay, and retroactive seniority. The case is Wilkes v. Arrington.

During the past two years, the civil-rights agency has intervened in similar "reverse-discrimination" suits involving police and fire departments in Memphis, Detroit, and Boston.

Vol. 04, Issue 18

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