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Black employees denied promotions in the Education Department won $4 million from the government to settle a 9-year-old federal discrimination case, the workers’ lawyers said Monday. Some 1,100 black upper-level employees filed the class-action suit in 1991, saying vague job postings and arbitrary decisions shut them out of top-level promotions in the 3,600-person department headquarters. The agreement — approved Friday by a federal judge — also calls for the Education Department to grant 34 promotions and make policy changes that include extending how long jobs are posted and writing clear, specific job descriptions. The plaintiffs suggested that the department used vague descriptions to prevent unwanted applicants from arguing that they met specific job requirements. “This will put qualified, hard-working African Americans in postings justified by their level of work and service to the department,” said Harry Lee, an attorney for the workers. He called the settlement appropriate compensation for a “racial glass ceiling.” It will garner plaintiffs as much as $12,000 each, based on a formula that includes length of service. Education Department officials said this was the first case against the department under a 1991 law that allows federal and private workers to be compensated for discrimination. In the agreement, the department neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing. “The department felt it was in everyone’s best interest to resolve this issue,” said Claudia Withers, the Education Department’s deputy general counsel. “From the beginning, it has been the position of Secretary (Richard) Riley, there were issues we needed to look at and resolve.” The agreement can’t be broken by a new administration and the court will spend the next four years monitoring the department for unfair practices. Bias against federal employees is “an epidemic,” said Avis Sanders, of the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, public advocates joined in the case by Lee’s firm, Steptoe & Johnson. “I hope all the agencies will take a look at this case and consider that they can work with their employees,” she said. Black employees stand to get $14 million from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. And a record $508 million settlement was awarded last March in a 23-year-old lawsuit filed by 1,100 women who said the Voice of America and the now-defunct U.S. Information Agency refused to hire them because of their gender. The Education Department employees — whose salaries ranged from about $40,000 to $110,000 — applied for jobs as chiefs and deputies of several department-run programs. Often, they were shut out of key initiatives being promoted by the Clinton administration, they said. The nine-year battle was often strained, said attorneys, as the workers and the department fought over statistics on promotions. Lee said they found no difference between the black workers and colleagues of other races who won promotions: “They had the same education, the same experience. You just saw blacks stop while other races continued.” Valerie Grant, the lead plaintiff in Grant et al. v. Riley, said she worried about the impact of bias on the nation’s 53 million schoolchildren, who are served by federal programs ranging from new computers to teacher training. “We started at the top,” said Grant, a 30-year veteran who worked on programs for Indian children and retired in 1998. “If you see discrimination in the Education Department, we know what will happen to our children in schools across the country.” Copyright 2000 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material maynot be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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