DES MOINES - A judge dismissed a class-action lawsuit Tuesday that claimed Iowa's state government systemically discriminated against black job applicants by allowing subtle racial bias to creep into virtually every hiring and promotion decision.
District Judge Robert Blink said the plaintiffs failed to prove their "unique legal theory," which was based on research that suggests Americans inherently prefer whites to blacks, even if they are unaware they do.
The lawsuit, considered the largest of its kind against a state's civil service system, covered up to 6,000 blacks passed over for jobs or promotions since 2003. It sought millions of dollars in lost wages and court-ordered changes to state hiring practices to better track and eliminate disparities.
Plaintiffs Dorothea Polk, right, and Ylonda Shook, left, look on during a news conference about a racial bias class action lawsuit against the state of Iowa, Tuesday, in Des Moines. A judge ruled Tuesday that Iowa's state government employment policies have not discriminated against black employees and job applicants.
Thomas Newkirk, the plaintiffs' lead lawyer, promised an appeal.
"For those of you who are tired of the state spending its tax dollars on a broken system and knowing that the system will favor people who look like me over people who look like our clients, then you should be disappointed in this ruling," Newkirk, who is white, said at a news conference. He added: "This is an historic case because it tried to approach discrimination from a different perspective."
Unlike in typical discrimination suits, the plaintiffs did not argue that black applicants or workers faced overt racism or a discriminatory hiring test. Instead, they claimed managers throughout state government subconsciously favored whites through their decisions about who got interviewed, hired and promoted. They claimed state officials failed to follow their own hiring rules to prevent bias.
The case relied on the theory of implicit bias, which has received growing interest among employment lawyers after researchers developed the Implicit Association Test to test racial stereotypes. Their work has found an inherent preference for whites over blacks in about 70 percent of Americans, including among many who do not consider themselves racist.