As reported by, New Jersey must create a new process for selecting sergeants in municipal and county police departments after reaching a settlement to revise a system the U.S. Department of Justice said discriminates against black and Hispanic applicants, federal officials announced Monday.

If the settlement is approved by a federal judge, the state will also be required to pay $1 million in back pay to black and Hispanic officers the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division says were harmed by the promotion process. Those officers may also be given priority for the next openings for sergeants.

“Police officers, whose daily responsibilities include protecting the public and ensuring the safety of others, have the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of race or national origin on the job,” said Thomas Perez, the assistant attorney general in charge of the Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice will challenge discrimination in employment on the basis of race or national origin, whether that discrimination is intentional or the result of promotional practices that have discriminatory impact.”

A spokesman for the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, Peter Aseltine, pointed out that the state did not admit any liability in reaching a settlement. “We believe that a settlement was prudent to avoid costly litigation,” he said. 

The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit in January 2010 in U.S. District Court in Newark saying the written civil service test required for police officers to advance to sergeant was discriminatory. Federal officials argued the exam was not useful in finding the best candidates for the job and resulted in disqualifications for a disproportionate number of black and Hispanic applicants. When the lawsuit was filed last year, a Department of Justice spokesman said at least 120 municipal and county police departments in the state have used the discriminatory system from 2000 through 2008.

During that time period, 89 percent of white candidates who took the test passed, compared with 73 percent of African-American candidates and 77 percent of Hispanic candidates, the lawsuit says. If the settlement is approved, police departments would have to stop administering the current exam.

Aseltine said he did not know how many officers would be able to claim some of the $1 million, saying federal officials would administer the process. According to the settlement, the use of the written exam prevented at least 48 more black candidates and 20 more Hispanics from becoming sergeants.