I’ve got a new piece at Reason on the long-running dispute between the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and the government of Westchester County in suburban NYC. Claiming that Westchester has failed to follow through on promises of attracting more minority homeowners, HUD is suing the county and wielding funding cutoffs to get it to step up a large commitment to subsidized housing, override town zoning rules, and enact an ordinance forbidding private landlords from turning away Section 8 tenants. The WSJ editorialized yesterday on the subject. Further background: ironic that county is being penalized after seeking to cooperate [Gerald McKinstry, Newsday; Joanne Wallenstein, Scarsdale 10583]; former Democratic county legislator backs county executive Rob Astorino on so-called “source of income” legislation [Journal-News]; similar law already in effect in Washington, D.C. [Examiner]; earlier coverage here, here, etc., and my 2009 City Journal account.
P.S. Shortly after our piece, a Second Circuit panel ruled the county out of compliance. ProPublica, the foundation-supported reporting-and-opinion outfit, has been doing a series of reporting-and-opinion pieces taking the plaintiffs’ side, including this latest.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination by recipients of federal education spending and other programs, does not currently allow private litigants to sue demanding punitive (as distinct from compensatory) damages, nor do the courts entertain private suits complaining of “disparate impact” under it. Some trial lawyers and advocates of expansive discrimination law have long wanted to change that, and now Hans Bader of the Competitive Enterprise Institute is warning that there are efforts afoot to slip an expansion into law by attaching it to some “must-pass” piece of legislation. An effort by Democratic senators to attach it to the Defense Authorization Act appears to have fallen short, but it may be back as a rider on other bills, with serious courtroom consequences, Bader warns, for schools and colleges and also for doctors and hospitals.
Following extensive rumblings of an impending crackdown, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sued Kaplan, the private education company, over its alleged policy of considering applicants’ credit records in making hiring decisions [Baltimore Sun, George Lenard; earlier here and here]
More from Ted Frank: “Somebody should tell the Transportation Security Administration, which also performs credit checks: they reject job applicants if they have more than $5000 in overdue debt.” And from the same link:
But what’s also driving the push to check credit is fear of lawsuits, [employment attorney Manesh] Rath said, especially in businesses where employees have access to customers’ money or possessions, including the banking, property management, hotel and home health care industries.
…”The employer will have a tough time defending itself,” Rath said, “if it didn’t take the simple measure of doing a background check.”
At City Journal, Heather Mac Donald has an important article on the federal courts’ willingness to second-guess in great detail the hiring practices of the New York City fire department, in search of more hiring of black applicants. It is worth noting that fire departments are pressed to rely (and even perhaps over-rely) on written tests in assessing applicants’ suitability in part because traditional testing of physical skills such as the ability to wield a charged hose, get up a ladder quickly, and carry body-size weights has been extensively and successfully sued against by lawyers representing female applicants.
Notwithstanding Barack Obama’s claim of a spending freeze on discretionary spending, Roger Clegg finds that the Obama Justice Department’s proposed budget calls for 22 new attorneys to bring “disparate-impact” cases—presumably the ones too weak to find a trial lawyer willing to take it on. And we can be quite confident that there won’t be any disparate impact against Federalist Society members when they do that hiring, right?
So asks Charlie Roberts, who ran the testing division for the Chicago Police Department from 1995 to 1999, upon learning that the city is simply going to give up on testing because of the threat of lawsuits. (Fran Spielman and Frank Main, “Police may scrap entrance exam”, Chicago Sun-Times, Jan. 6.) The problem is exacerbated by the EEOC’s Four-Fifths Rule—of dubious constitutionality after Ricci—which holds that any selection process that results in a selection rate for any race, sex, or ethnic group less than four-fifths of the most successful group is “adverse impact” that “constitutes discrimination unless justified.” 41 CFR § 60-3.