The Justice Department (DOJ) has sued Baltimore County, Maryland and its police department for what it has deemed discriminatory hiring practices against prospective entry-level officers. The department had been using an exam, which Black applicants consistently performed worse on than white applicants, leading to fewer Black applicants being hired in a county that is nearly 30% African American.
The written exam — which the department no longer uses — covered skills such as reading comprehension and “interpretation of data.” The DOJ’s statement declared the tests were inexcusably discriminatory because they were “not job-related.”
In a statement, Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said if a test leads to the unintended discrimination of one of Title VII’s protected groups, it must be proven to be job-related.
Out of 1,910 officers in the Baltimore County department, 280 are Black, which amounts to just over 15% of the force, CNN reports.
This move appears to be one of the only examples of a pattern-or-practice suit — a full-scale civil rights inquiry into policing practices — by President Trump’s DOJ, CNN reports. Under the Obama administration, these lawsuits were more common and occurred in tandem with nationwide fights against police brutality. This case refers specifically to workplace discrimination and does not address other racialized issues involving police, such as excessive force.
“It’s significant that this was allowed to go through in the Trump era,” Vanita Gupta, the former Obama-era DOJ civil rights chief and president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights told CNN. “It shouldn’t be significant, but it is, because of (the Trump Justice Department’s) history of abdicating its responsibility on these systemic investigations.”
Most recently, DOJ Attorney General William Barr announced his decision to drop charges against Daniel Pantaleo, the now-fired officer responsible for killing Eric Garner, a Black man, by placing him in an illegal chokehold.
The DOJ called the Baltimore County police discrimination “unintentional,” but employers can still be deemed liable for employment discrimination, regardless of intent.
Debates over disparate test scores among Black and white populations have long been fraught with racist claims that these levels of intelligence are due to genetics. However, data shows these differences are due to environmental factors leading to disadvantages. Not to mention, measuring non-white people by white intelligence standards is inherently problematic. Discussions of various intelligence tests like the SATs and IQ tests have called their merit into question recently.
Last month, author and activist Ibram X. Kendi appeared on DemocracyNow! to discuss how many standardized tests are biased.
“These are tests that were created by eugenicists,” Kendi said. “When you look at the person who created the SAT test, when you look at the person who first popularized the IQ test in the United States, these were avowed eugenicists.”
The DOJ complaint orders Baltimore County to stop using the tests, to provide relief to any applicants who suffered loss due to the hiring practice and to “adopt other non-discriminatory members to correct the present effects.” A 2016 investigative report of traffic stops in Baltimore County, WBALTV reporters found Black drivers faced a disproportionate number of traffic stops despite making up only a small number of the area’s population.
In a statement, Baltimore County Executive Pat Olszewski said the department does not use the test any longer and that the county has created two “diversity-focused positions” in the county’s government: one for the county at-large and another specifically for the police department. He said the county is “willing to negotiate” with the DOJ to better serve the department and community.