Subconscious Discrimination Lawsuit in Iowa

By: Mike Seinberg

A class action lawsuit against the Iowa state government is being closely watched by civil rights advocates and civil justice activists. The case, which covers up to 6,000 African-Americans who allege that they were passed over for jobs and or promotions dating back to 2003, comes down to what is being called “subconscious racism.”  The lawyers for the plaintiffs are suggesting that because Iowa is a state with a 91 percent white population, hiring managers subconsciously favored white applicants across state government. Further, the plaintiffs do not claim that they faced overt racism or that hiring tests were in any way discriminatory.

The major problem with this case is that it threatens to open up a huge can of worms for municipalities, states, and corporations going forward. If what a person does unconsciously could become actionable, then the floodgates would open for any number of questionable or outright frivolous lawsuits. According to an upcoming study by SUNY Albany on the effects of lawsuits on municipalities in New York State, 42 percent of local governments had to work to resolve claims in 2010.  Between 2005 and 2009, municipalities outside of New York City spent over $1 billion to resolve and or pay for lawsuits.

At a time when tort reform is needed more than ever, the ruling in this case could have far reaching and possibly devastating effects on our economy here in New York.

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