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In early August, several civil rights groups banded together and announced the U.S. Census Bureau discriminated in its methods of hiring temporary workers, more than one million of them, to gather information used in the 2010 census. Further, the groups contend the bureau was warned by at least one federal agency that it was in violation of the Civil Rights Act. These latest claims were added to an already existing suit, filed in April, that seeks to gain back pay, says A. Harrison Barnes, attorney and founder of

The groups, The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Public Citizen Litigation Group and at least a few other groups and organizations, all came together in April 2010 and filed the suit that claims the Department of Commerce trampled over the civil rights of many of these temporary workers. Filed in Manhattan’s U.S. District Court, the suit claims applicants were not considered if they had arrest records associated with minor offenses and those who were arrested, yet never were convicted. This was information that never should have been a factor at any level, at least according to the attorneys representing those who claim discrimination.

The suit goes on to take a more racial stance. It states discrimination was more evident in nearly 100,000 blacks, Latinos and Native Americans because of a stronger likelihood of having criminal records. The lawsuit reads, in part, “…screening practices effectively imports acute racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system into the employment process”.

The founder says new evidence had also been filed with the suit, including a letter dated more than a year ago from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and that addressed the director of the Census Bureau warning the bureau of several complaints that had been filed by applicants who claimed the decision to not hire them was unfair and possibly illegal. Further, A. Harrison Barnes says the bureau was also advised to carefully consider the offenses before disqualifying a candidate.

Many lawyers are questioning why the July, 2009 warning wasn’t heeded by the Census Bureau, especially considering the gravity of the accusations. The information was gleaned apparently from one of the FBI’s many databases. It’s estimated these databases include information on more than 20% of the U.S. population.

This lawsuit has come at a time when unemployment rates are still considerably high and a recent surge was correlated directly with the temporary employment positions that ended over the past few months. For reasons that remain unclear, 93% of applicants who were not hired due to criminal records did not respond to the letters they received that clearly stated the reasons why. Some legal experts are saying the system was designed to discriminate.
The lawsuit is expected to continue for quite some time, says A. Harrison Barnes.

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