As reported in the Trentonian on January 8, 2010, the United States Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the State of New Jersey alleging that New Jersey’s widespread use of a written exam to promote police sergeants discriminates against blacks and Hispanics. The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Newark, accuses New Jersey of civil rights violations for using a written exam in which black and Hispanic candidates scored significantly and consistently lower than their white counterparts.

Moreover, according to the complaint, 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. Significantly, the Department of Justice has not taken issue with using seniority as a factor for promotions. As such, the lawsuit seeks to stop New Jersey from continuing to use the exam and asks the court to order it to offer relief to officers “harmed” by the exam by extending them promotions, back pay and retroactive seniority.

Test scores from 2000 to 2008 reviewed by the Justice Department showed that 89 percent of the white candidates who took the exam passed, compared to 77 percent of Hispanics and 73 percent of black candidates. With the exception of the New Jersey State Police, most law enforcement agencies across the state use the exam.

“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 Perez, 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.”

In a similar case, a federal judge in July sided with the Justice Department in ruling that New York City had discriminated against minorities in its hiring of firefighters, causing blacks and Hispanics to comprise only 10 percent of the fire department’s work force, even though most city residents are minorities.