By REGINA GARCIA CANO
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota’s Department of Social Services is denying claims of racial discrimination against Native Americans who applied for jobs at its office on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
The state agency says in its response to a lawsuit brought by the Justice Department last month that it was unaware of the race of the applicants because it doesn’t request that information from job candidates. It also argues that those who applied specifically for a position as an employment specialist and were rejected did not meet all the job requirements.
Federal officials “cannot establish that any failure to hire was a pretext for race discrimination,” attorneys for the state agency wrote in a response filed in federal court in Rapid City. On Thursday the court ordered both parties to meet by Jan. 4 to discuss the case.
The lawsuit argues that over the course of two years beginning in 2010, the state agency posted 18 specialist vacancies for its office on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, receiving about 40 percent of its applications from Native Americans. Federal authorities say the department hired 11 people who are white and only one Native American, and removed six other openings entirely.
“In some cases, DSS passed over a well-qualified Native American candidate in favor of a white applicant with lesser qualifications,” the lawsuit states. “In others, DSS closed vacancy announcements rather than select a well-qualified Native American candidate.”
The lawsuit cites the case of Cedric Goodman, a Native American who applied for the job of employment specialist in October 2010. Goodman has bachelor’s degrees in Human Services and Business Administration.
The Justice Department says in the lawsuit that the Department of Social Services interviewed six applicants, including five Native Americans. The lawsuit says none of the six were hired, and when the agency sought applicants again for the same job, it hired a white candidate who “was a 2010 college graduate with limited work experience mostly centered in a retail and office environment.”
In its response, the agency denies that the woman hired had limited work experience, and also denies “knowing the candidate’s race at the time of her hire.”
The lawsuit seeks compensation including back pay for Goodman and other Native American applicants, and asks that Goodman be placed in the next available employment specialist position. Additionally, the Justice Department asks the court to order the state agency to adopt a selection process that complies with federal law.