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Polk County Judge Rules That Plaintiffs Fail to Show Inseparability in Class-Action Against the State of Iowa


Something this blog has not yet covered is the list of responsibilities of a plaintiff who might wish to bring an employer to court for unlawfully failing to hire or promote a candidate. Plaintiffs need to show that an employment practice resulted in a disparate impact on the candidates. In the case of Pippen v. the State of Iowa, the issue is race. Pippen claims that she and other African Americans were passed over for jobs in favor of less qualified white candidates.

If the plaintiff is successful in showing that the employment practice had a disparate impact on the basis of race, then it falls to the defendant to prove that the challenged practice is job-related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity. If the defendant can successfully prove this then the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to show another employment practice which would meet the defendant’s business necessity with a less disparate impact.

If the plaintiff cannot identify a specific employment practice, then the plaintiff must prove that the decision-making practices of the employer cannot be separated for analysis, in which case the decision-making process can be analyzed as one employment practice.

Federal law dictates that “a particular employment practice” is distinct from the “decision-making process”. One is a component of the other. Only if the components that make up the whole are so indistinguishable can the process itself be deemed “an employment practice”.

The plaintiffs argued that:
• The State’s system has “integrated and intertwined” policies, making the various steps of the decision-making process inseparable for analysis.
• Throughout the process there are “downstream effects”: decisions at one stage that may have impact at a later stage
• The State system includes both objective and subjective evaluations of job applicants which are so closely interrelated in reaching the ultimate decision to hire or promote that they cannot be independently examined
• The “steps” of the State’s hiring process cannot be separated for analysis because the Department of Administrative Services does not have the necessary records to determine if any particular step causes adverse impact to a protected class.

The plaintiffs argued that three previous federal cases have found that failure to follow set procedures is, in itself, a particular employment practice for purposes of a disparate impact claim but the judge maintained that one of the cases is not relevant to the present case and, as regards the other two, the plaintiffs misinterpreted the legal ruling.

However, a number of the expert witnesses were able to separate data for the referral stage, the interview stage, and the hiring stage for African-Americans and the hiring files themselves permitted a focused view of the different screening devices and practices in referral, interview, or hiring of applicants for any given job between the departments. Given these facts, the judge ultimately determined that the plaintiffs had failed to prove that the components of the whole were indistinguishable.

The attorneys at the Chicago Overtime Law Center have decades of experience litigating class action cases. They have offices conveniently located in Oakbrook Terrace and Chicago, Illinois. If you live in Illinois and have a class action suit, contact an Urbana overtime attorney today at 312-869-4095 or fill out our online form.