The lawyer for several African Americans who filed suit against the State of Iowa for discriminatory hiring and promotion practices says they are one step closer to making a change after receiving class action certification in Polk County District Court. Attorney Thomas Newkirk says they must now prepare for the trial next September.
Newkirk says they now move into the “merit stage” as they prepare for the trial. “But I think more importantly the nature of what we’re going to be doing is showing the state how the discrimination works within its system, how it affects and creates barriers for African Americans that is tied to their race,” Newkirk explains, “and to deal with discrimination and what I view as gain, a modern view of how discrimination works, not the old school blame and denial view of discrimination and racism.”
Newkirk says he started the process in 2006 before the lawsuit was filed to try and get the state to change its process. He says he sent a lot of information to then Governor Vilsack on the “systemic nature of the problem, how to fix it, some ideas how to fix it” as he says they tried to save the state the cost of litigation. Newkirk says they will continue trying to come to a solution as the problem “continues every single day.”
Newkirk says the case is based on stereotyping of African Americans who seek state jobs, not their simple appearance as a black person.
Newkirk says if you take any one African American and put them up against a white individual, they may or may not be appear to be more qualified than the white individual.
“But the problem with African Americans because of how they have come up through this country and the social and negative stereotypes that are connected to them, it’s very difficult to separate those stereotypes form the African American who may be qualified, but may appear not to be,” Newkirk says. Newkirk says African Americans are judged on how they appear and not whether they are qualified.
“An African American who might say something like ‘axed’ instead of ‘asked’ for example, because it is connected to past racism and past discrimination, you would notice it, you would assign a negative view of their abilities because they would use a word that is connected to being African American. That is one example of how the thousands of decisions in the State of Iowa, an African American can be negatively impacted by it,” Newkirk says.
Newkirk says they are looking for the things he has described end. He says the main goal is to change the system and how we deal with and identify discrimination, and acknowledge its existence. The case now has 32 named plaintiffs and could include more than 20,000 employment applications across a multitude of state agencies. Newkirk says his office will notify potential class members in the next several months and information on the class action will be provided on the web at: www.iowagovraceclassaction.info.