Lawsuit Over Pittsburgh Police’s Discriminatory Hiring Settled by ACLU and City

Since 2001, Only 4% of New Hires Are African-American; Pittsburgh is 26% African-American

May 7, 2015 5:15 pm

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PITTSBURGH – The ACLU of Pennsylvania announced today that it has settled a class action federal lawsuit alleging that the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police (BOP) had a longstanding pattern and practice of racial discrimination against African-Americans in its hiring process for entry-level police officer positions. As part of the agreement, a committee will be established to revise the city’s hiring process. The settlement also provides for payments totaling $985,000 to African-American applicants who were rejected between 2008 and 2014.

“Having a police force that more closely resembles Pittsburgh’s demographics is important. It’s a matter of fairness to qualified African-American applicants, and it will promote the city administration’s goal of improving the strained relations between police and communities of color,” said Witold Walczak, the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s legal director and one of the lead attorneys in the case.

The lawsuit, Foster v. City of Pittsburgh, was filed on August 23, 2012, on behalf of five African-American applicants who had been rejected for officer positions. Since 2001, only 23 out of about 530 police officers hired by BOP have been African-American, or about 4%. The city’s African-American population is about 26%. The lawsuit alleged that the low number of African-American hires stemmed from entrenched problems with the screening and hiring process, including favoritism toward applicants with family or friends who are already police officers and decisions based on purely subjective criteria.

In spring 2013, the parties agreed to suspend the litigation and bring in Dr. Leaetta M. Hough, an industrial organization psychologist and one of the country’s leaders in developing and implementing staffing and performance management systems. After a six-month investigation, Dr. Hough concluded in her February 2014 report that ”the overall system has an adverse impact on African-American applicants” and that “the system should be revised and improved.”

Following a year of mediation, the plaintiffs and the city reached a settlement agreement that provides for both a process to reform the hiring system and payments to class members who attempted to obtain jobs with the BOP. The agreement will not become final until there has been notice to members of the class, a court hearing to allow input from class members, and approval by the judge, a process that will take about four months.

The agreement establishes a committee to work for three years to correct the problems identified in Dr. Hough’s report and to address the racial disparities in the city’s hiring process. The committee includes Dr. Hough, the director of the Department of Personnel and Civil Service, the chief of police, the director of the Office of Municipal Investigations, the city solicitor, and lawyers who represent the plaintiff class members.

The reform process, which has already begun, will assess every significant step in the selection process, including the written test, the oral boards, the conduct of the background investigation, the actual selection of candidates, appeals by rejected applicants to the Civil Service Commission, and the psychological review process.

“We are pleased to have reached an agreement with the city to create more equitable police hiring procedures. We hope that new, fairer processes will help the city increase its hiring of African-Americans to an acceptable level, while improving the quality of all of those hired into these very important positions,” said Ellen Doyle, a partner with the firm Feinstein, Doyle, Payne & Kravec, LLC, and one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs.

The settlement also provides for payments totaling $985,000 to African-American applicants who took the civil service written test or were considered by the Chief’s Roundtable between 2008 and 2014. Plaintiffs’ lawyers estimate that there are about 360 class members eligible for compensation. Payment amounts will vary depending on how far in the process applicants advanced. The agreement also provides for a separate payment of fees and costs to plaintiffs’ attorneys, in an amount to be determined by the court. In all, the city has agreed to pay up to $1,585,000, plus the cost of experts to help reform the hiring process.

“The Peduto administration didn’t create this problem; they inherited it,” said Walczak. “But from their first days in office, they deserve credit for being committed to fixing the long-standing problems.”

Plaintiffs in the case are James M. Foster, Mike J. Sharp, Timothy Christian, Tariq Jamal-Francis, and Darrick Payton. Lawyers representing the plaintiffs are Doyle, Edward Feinstein and Pamina Ewing from the law firm Feinstein, Doyle, Payne & Kravec, LLC, and Witold Walczak, Sara Rose, and Paloma Wu of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

More information about the case, including a copy of Dr. Hough’s report, a backgrounder on case, the original complaint, and the settlement agreement is available at: www.aclupa.org/foster

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