Iowa sued on charge of subconscious bias

by Walter Olson on March 19, 2012

Class action lawyers are suing the government of Iowa on an theory that “subconscious” bias resulted in employment discrimination against black employees and job-seekers. “The plaintiffs — up to 6,000 African-Americans passed over for state jobs and promotions dating back to 2003 — do not say they faced overt racism or discriminatory hiring tests.” Instead, they are relying on the work of an expert witness who is the developer of something called an Implicit Associations Test meant to measure subconscious bias. The controversy invites courts to revisit some issues of statistical and indirect proof that came up, without necessarily being resolved, in the landmark Supreme Court case of Wal-Mart v. Dukes. [AP via Justin Shubow, FedSoc Blog]

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1 Hugo S. Cunningham 03.19.12 at 2:01 pm

The only way to avoid a lawsuit on this principle is a strict quota system, which might make you vulnerable on other grounds. Also, there could be litigation on exactly who should be counted under a given quota.

2 Richard Nieporent 03.19.12 at 2:28 pm

Their research found an inherent preference for whites over blacks — in up to 80 percent of test-takers and among many people who do not consider themselves racist.

So how did Obama ever get elected President?

3 Flemur 03.19.12 at 2:39 pm
4 DEM 03.19.12 at 4:03 pm

So much for deterrence as a goal of private lawsuits. Here we have a suit for damages premised on unconscious — and, hence, undeterrable (if that’s a word) — activity. Do plaintiffs really deserve to be compensated for thoughts the defendants did not even know they were thinking?

5 wfjag 03.19.12 at 4:30 pm

Being a class action, the settlement will provide for a $X Million figure for attorneys’ fees, and the class members will receive a coupon, redeemable for 5 extra points on their next state job application or promotion application.

6 John Fembup 03.19.12 at 5:36 pm

I thought about commenting, but then I realized everyone already knows what I was going to say.

7 nevins 03.19.12 at 6:45 pm

Wow, 6000 blacks who are subconsciously biased. What do they intend to give the state to compensate the taxpayers for their mistaken beliefs that they were passed over for anything less than their actual level of competence.

8 smart dude 03.19.12 at 10:13 pm

I love the Psychic Hotline Expert Witness.

I also love the non-peer reviewed ESP magic test to read the secrets of the soul. I also notice they the class action crooks are not trying this stunt in Federal Court.

9 Anonymous Attorney 03.21.12 at 1:04 pm

I have read that human subconscious reaction to persons of different races/ethnicities has an evolutionary origin: we developed in small, tight-knit bands of co-ethnics and saw — accurately — outsiders as competitors for food and territory. The more genetically distant the figure, the bigger the threat. These reactions go all the way to the amygdala, one of the most primitive parts of the brain. So, yes, when “racism” is decried as primitive, it is just that — although “primitive” in the same way that we salivate for food or oogle members of the opposite sex. The entire project of 2oth/21st Century Western politics and morals has been to present these base tendencies as moral failings. But they aren’t going anywhere, and the project will only continue to fail.

10 mikee 03.21.12 at 8:03 pm

I tried to take an online implicit bias test, but failed utterly when they presented certain words as “good” or “bad” without reason, and then wanted me to pair those word – prejudged as good or bad – with pictures of partial faces of vaguely dark skinned or light skinned people. The idea was that I would show my prejudices by linking black faces and the words they assigned as “bad” faster or more accurately than white faces and the words they assigned as “bad,” testing multiple combinations of “good” and “bad” words with the vaguely-identifiable=races of partial faces.

I could not remember which words were supposed to be bad or good, and I could not tell the supposed races of the partial faces shown, so I kept getting “Wrong” answers. Also, there weren’t any Asians or Indians or Native Americans in the pictures. The whole thing was a crock.

11 Ron Miler 03.22.12 at 8:44 am

Well right, Richard. Obama is the president. Therefore, there is no racism in America.

Glad that is resolved.

12 wfjag 03.22.12 at 9:33 am

@Ron Miler
Absolutely! And, all those White Supremacists are congregating in Iowa. Just look how Pres. Obama did there in the 2008 election cycle:

Obama claims Iowa; Sen. Harkin also wins
USAToday, 11/5/2008
“DES MOINES (AP) — Democrat Barack Obama won Iowa’s seven electoral votes Tuesday, claiming a crucial swing state and the state where precinct caucuses in January put him on the road to the Democratic presidential nomination.”

http://www.usatoday.com/news/politics/election2008/ia.htm

This proves that, as predicted by Critical Race Theory, to fool everyone, all the racists voted for him! This way they can keep all the lower paying state jobs for themselves.

13 Richard Nieporent 03.22.12 at 10:59 am

Well right, Richard. Obama is the president. Therefore, there is no racism in America.

Glad that is resolved.

Ron, are you really incapable of understanding my comment? I thought you were smarter than that. The article was about subconscious bias not overt bias. The study attempted to show “that most whites have an unconscious bias against African-Americans”. If that were the case then it would be logically to conclude that a significant number of whites would, without being consciously racist, vote against a Black candidate simple because he was Black. That in no way precludes the fact that there are openly racist whites and for that matter, given the percentage of Blacks who voted for Obama, openly racist Blacks. Now do you understand?

14 Ron Miler 03.22.12 at 11:12 am

It is crazy that you would draw inferences from one black person being able to overcome a bias. No one is saying that this does not mean that people can’t overcome racism in some cases. Bill Russell own Boston in the 60s, by all accounts an unbelievably racist town.

There are tons of studies to support the idea that MOST whites have an unconscious bias towards blacks. Read the studies cited by Malcolm Gladwell in Blink. You can take a test online if you Google it. (Find a study that says the opposite.)

I don’t think the fact that Obama is president proves a single thing about racism in America – not overt, subconscious or anything else.

15 Richard Nieporent 03.22.12 at 12:09 pm

It is crazy that you would draw inferences from one black person being able to overcome a bias.

So how was that possible Ron if “There are tons of studies to support the idea that MOST whites have an unconscious bias towards blacks”? This was not an election for Congress in a majority Black district, but a national election that would allow all of those white racists to vote against him. By what magic was he able to pull this off and not only win, but win with a sizeable majority?

If Obama had lost you would have insisted that it had nothing to do with his race. Is that right? If one believes that, I got a bridge to sell you in Ithaca (but be careful people keep on jumping off of it). Not only was Obama able to beat McCain, but he was also able to defeat Hilary! whose coronation as the next President had been choreographed for the last eight years. I guess we just have a really poor quality of racists in this country. They are so dumb that they can’t even figure out which was the Black guy that they were supposed to vote against.

16 Ron Miler 03.22.12 at 12:57 pm

Many people who have an “unconscious bias” towards blacks are good people who try to consciously and effectively self correct.

I can’t believe I’m struggling to make this point. You can be a racist and still like some black people. That’s why I gave you the Bill Russell example. Obama did not lose the racist vote 100-0.

I’m amazed you think the election of one man – who, not for nothing – is black only because of an antiquated definition of who is black – is so telling of the hearts and, more importantly for this conversation, the subconscious, of the American people.

I agree with you on one point tho: we do have a really poor quality of racists in this country.

17 Richard Nieporent 03.22.12 at 1:58 pm

Many people who have an “unconscious bias” towards blacks are good people who try to consciously and effectively self correct.

Ron, are you trying to tell us something about yourself? It is obvious that the reason Liberals are constantly accusing others of racism is due to projection on their part.

18 Ron Miler 03.22.12 at 2:28 pm

I don’t view racism as a liberal/conservative issue. There are, believe it or not, other lenses with which you can view the world.

19 MF 03.23.12 at 5:37 pm

I love the Psychic Hotline Expert Witness.

smartdude, I think you just unwittingly (subconsciously?) coined a new acronym for this person, the PHEW! ;-)

20 Melvin H. 03.24.12 at 11:31 am

I would be curious to see this study replicated in largely minority areas, like inner-city New York, Detroit, Chicago, etc. and Los Angeles, San Diego, Honolulu, San Francisco, etc. to see if this also applies the other way. On the other hand, I wonder if this would even pass Daubert scrutiny.

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