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Date: 01-30-2020

Case Style:

United States of America v. South Dakota Department of Social Services

Case Number: 5:15-cv-05079

Judge: Jeffrey L. Viken

Court: United States District Court for the District of South Dakota

Plaintiff's Attorney: Jeff Morrison, Alisa Philo, Jen Swedish, and Shayna Bloom

Defendant's Attorney: South Dakota Attorney General's Office

Description: Pierre, SD - The United States of America sued the South Dakota Department of Social Services on a civil rights violation theory.

The Justice Department announced today that it has reached a settlement with the South Dakota Department of Social Services (Department of Social Services or DSS), a state agency that assists South Dakotans seeking public benefits, resolving allegations that DSS intentionally discriminated against Native American job applicants at its Pine Ridge Indian Reservation Office. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, subject to court approval, the Department of Social Services will pay $350,000 in back pay and other monetary relief to approximately 60 Native American job applicants. The Department of Social Services also must comply with reporting requirements regarding its hiring of Specialists at the Pine Ridge Office.

“The Civil Rights Division is committed to enforcing the nation’s anti-discrimination laws on behalf of all Americans, including Native Americans, to make sure they are—as the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King challenged 56 years ago—judged by the ‘content of their character’ and not the ‘color of their skin,’” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “This settlement helps move our nation towards Dr. King’s dream of making opportunity available to all unfettered by unlawful discrimination. It provides monetary relief for Native American applicants, ensures equal opportunity to compete for jobs, and establishes a reporting and oversight process to guard against racial discrimination in the future.”

The amended complaint, filed in November 2016 in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota, alleged that in failing to select qualified Native American applicants for several positions at DSS’s Pine Ridge Office, DSS engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination that violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended. Title VII is a federal statute that prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin, and religion.

According to the amended complaint, in October 2010, Cedric Goodman, a Native American job candidate, applied for a Specialist position at DSS’s Pine Ridge Office. DSS determined that Goodman was qualified for the position and offered him an interview. After interviewing Goodman and other qualified Native American candidates, DSS removed the job posting and hired no one. The next business day, however, DSS re-posted the position and ultimately selected a white applicant with qualifications inferior to Goodman’s. In addition to the intentional discrimination claim involving Goodman, the United States also alleged that denying Goodman’s application was part of an intentional pattern or practice of race discrimination by DSS, where the Pine Ridge Office repeatedly removed job postings and used subjective, arbitrary hiring practices to disfavor qualified Native American applicants for Specialist positions.

Goodman originally filed a charge of race discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC’s Minneapolis Area Office, in its Chicago District, investigated the matter and found reasonable cause to believe that DSS discriminated against Goodman and a class of similarly situated Native American applicants. After unsuccessful conciliation efforts, the EEOC referred the matter to Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.

The Civil Rights Division brought this lawsuit as part of a joint effort to enhance collaboration between the Justice Department and the EEOC in the vigorous enforcement of Title VII. Additional information about the Division, including copies of the amended complaint and the settlement agreement can be found online on its website at www.usdoj.gov/crt.

Outcome: Settled

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