- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 5, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - The state of Rhode Island asked a judge Tuesday to limit the scope of a lawsuit brought by federal authorities who say the Department of Corrections has been discriminating against black and Hispanic applicants to correctional officer jobs since 2000.

The U.S. Department of Justice says in its lawsuit filed in February that the state’s written and video exams disproportionately screened out African-American and Hispanic applicants.

From 2000 to 2011, the Justice Department said, about 63 percent of white applicants passed both the written and video exam to become an entry-level correctional officer, while 41 percent of black applicants passed both and 33 percent of Hispanic applicants passed both. The investigation into the department’s hiring practices began in 2009.

Rhode Island Assistant Attorney General Neil F.X. Kelly asked U.S. District Judge William Smith on Tuesday to narrow down the period for which the state can be held liable.

Clare Geller, a lawyer for the DOJ’s civil rights division, indicated that if the lawsuit succeeds, the federal government would seek to establish a “pot of money,” paid for by the state, for those applicants from 2000 until today who were affected by the alleged discrimination. Those affected would also receive priority hiring at the Department of Corrections as long as they are qualified for the job. The money would come from a calculation of back pay from 2007 to the present of how many additional black and Hispanic applicants would have been hired if not for discrimination.

The department’s hiring process has been on hold since November, when it received word from the Department of Justice that it had violated the law. Shortly before receiving the letter, in October and November, it had administered the exams to a pool of applicants.

The state said no action has been taken on any of those applicants, and the last training academy before then had been in 2011.

“The need to seat a training academy class grows more acute daily for the (Department of Corrections) because of fiscal and other concerns,” Kelly wrote in court papers.

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