- Associated Press - Thursday, May 7, 2015

PITTSBURGH — The city has agreed to pay nearly $1.6 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union three years ago that claimed police hiring policies discriminated against blacks.

City solicitor Lourdes Sanchez Ridge said the city doesn’t believe there was intentional bias, but settled to limit the city’s liability.

“From the city’s point of view, if in this kind of action a jury awards $1 (in damages), then we have to pay all the attorneys’ fees and there are six (plaintiffs’) attorneys — so it’s going to be a lot more than this entire settlement,” she said.

The ACLU sued because 23 of 530 officers hired by the city since 2001 — or about 4 percent — have been black, even though the city’s population is about 26 percent black. The percentage of black officers was 17 percent when the lawsuit was filed and has dropped to 13 percent even though the city and ACLU jointly hired an expert to begin studying the issue in 2013.

The expert, Leaetta Hough, an industrial organization psychologist, determined no single step in the hiring process was discriminatory, but “the overall system has an adverse impact on African-American applicants” and “should be revised and improved.”

Mayor Peduto said the reforms will help the city in “creating a force that understands the cultural differences that are part of any community.”

The city has already approved spending $250,000 to pay Hough and EB Jacobs, a consulting firm, to help revise its hiring practices, which could take a year or two. The settlement must be approved by City Council and a federal judge, which should take about four months.

The city will pay up to $600,000 in attorneys’ fees and $985,000 to roughly 360 black candidates rejected from 2008 to 2014, with the five lead class-action plaintiffs likely getting more money than the others, said Witold “Vic” Walczak, legal director for the ACLU in Pennsylvania.

The rejected applicants will be paid based on a still-to-be-developed formula accounting for how many times they were passed over, among other factors, Walczak said.

The city had previously said in court papers that one lead plaintiff had three warrants for failing to respond to citations, a spotty work record and a “poor” driving record, and that discrimination claims by four other plaintiffs were “extremely weak.”

But Walczak said one of those plaintiffs is in the city’s next police academy class and three others work for suburban police departments.

“This case is not about changing or lowering the standards for anyone,” Walczak said, rather, it’s about creating more concrete standards that will be applied less subjectively.

There are no guarantees the new approach will work, but Ridge said the scientific method being implemented should shield the city from further lawsuits if the number of black officers doesn’t increase significantly.

The city has dealt with court-ordered minority hiring in the past. A federal consent decree forced the city to hire one white woman and one black male and female for every white male officer hired from 1975 to 1991, when a federal appeals court found that approach unconstitutional.

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