The Blog

A Test Case for Obama

2:11 PM, Jan 15, 2009 • By TERRY EASTLAND
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

This week the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Gary, Indiana, charging the city with racial discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. You can read the complaint here.

The story in brief: Gary wanted to hire some Emergency Medical Technicians. It had 25 job applicants. The city drew up a list ranking them from 1 to 25 and said it would offer jobs based on the rankings. It made six offers-to applicants ranked 1st, 5th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th-and the offers were accepted.

Six applicants not offered jobs thought they'd been discriminated against on the basis of race. Why? Because they are white and all of those who were offered and got jobs are black, and the six whites thought there could be no other explanation but race for the city's decision not to hire, as it said it would, according to the rankings. Each of the six whites (they were ranked 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th, and 8th) had a higher rank than the lowest-ranked applicant (the one in the twelfth spot) who got a job. The six complained to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which investigated and found cause to believe that Gary had violated Title VII. The EEOC sent the case to the Civil Rights Division at Justice, which was unable to settle with Gary. Hence the lawsuit.

Which raises a question: Will the Obama Justice Department continue with the case, assuming it has merit? Or will it pull back because it refuses to enforce Title VII in a case of so-called reverse discrimination, maintaining (erroneously) that the law was intended to protect the rights of only blacks and other designated minorities? This case could prove an early test of how Obama intends to enforce the civil rights laws.