The suit, filed in federal court in Newark, accuses New Jersey of civil rights violations for using a written exam in which black and Latinos candidates scored significantly and consistently lower than their white counterparts.
Even when minority candidates passed the test, they were not promoted as often as white candidates because their scores were lower and promotions were granted first to those with the highest scores and most seniority, according to the lawsuit, which did not take issues with using seniority as a factor for promotions.
The lawsuit seeks to stop the state from continuing to use the exam and asks the court to order New Jersey to offer relief to officers ``harmed'' by the exam by extending them promotions, back pay and retroactive seniority.
``This complaint should send a clear message to all public employers that employment practices with unlawful discriminatory impact on account of race or national origin will not be tolerated,'' said Thomas Pérez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. ``The Justice Department will take all necessary action to ensure that such discriminatory practices are eliminated and that the victims of such practices are made whole.''
Test scores from 2000 to 2008 that were reviewed by the DOJ showed that 89 percent of the white candidates who took the exam passed it, compared to 77 percent of Latinos and 73 percent of black candidates.
With the exception of the state police, most law enforcement agencies across the state use the exam.
The Civil Service Commission, which sets the guidelines for promotion protocol for most departments, was also listed in the lawsuit.
The Attorney General’s Office, which represents the state in lawsuits, declined to comment on the lawsuit.
In a similar case, a federal judge in July sided with the DOJ in ruling that New York City had discriminated against minorities in its hiring of firefighters, causing blacks and Latinos to comprise only 10 percent of the fire department’s work force, even though most city residents are minorities.
In that case, black and Latino applicants had also disproportionately failed written examinations and those who passed were placed disproportionately lower down the hiring lists than whites.