A Native American man's attempt to be hired for a job that seemed to fit his qualifications, but which was then given to an inexperienced white woman, has led to a lawsuit charging a South Dakota agency with racial discrimination in hiring.

The lawsuit was filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, the nation's most powerful law-enforcement agency, against the South Dakota Department of Social Services, which is in charge of helping people deal with social problems.

The discrimination case is noteworthy because the Native American man, Cedric Goodman, was applying for a job with the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation office of the state social services department, a position in which he could have served members of his own tribe.

The federal justice department is accusing the DSS of discrimination because it failed to hire Goodman and instead hired a white person whose qualifications appear inferior to Goodman's.

Furthermore, the lawsuit says, the DSS has shown a "pattern or practice of intentional resistance to the full enjoyment of the rights of Native American applicants to equal employment opportunities without discrimination based on race."

In response to a request for comment for this story, Tia Kafka, communications director for the DSS, wrote in an email: "In response to your inquiry, the Department cannot comment on pending litigation."

If the suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Rapid City, is successful, the DSS could be required to provide back pay to Goodman and other Native American applicants who were qualified but may have been improperly turned down for DSS jobs.

Included in the DSS statewide reach is an office on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. As a result of its location, the DSS office there serves many Native Americans in such areas as nutrition assistance, medical eligibility and temporary assistance for needy families.

In October of 2010, the lawsuit alleges, Goodman applied for an opening as an employment specialist in the Pine Ridge office of the DSS. The lawsuit added that "specialist" jobs "are among the higher-paying positions at DSS." The Pine Ridge office has 23 specialist positions, in which employees help people find jobs.

Goodman, at the time, "met all of the objective qualifications for the Employment Specialist position at Pine Ridge," including a bachelor's degree in human services and business administration, the lawsuit says. He also had five years of experience as a social worker, three and a half years as a supervisory social worker with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and four years as an employment specialist with the South Dakota Job Seeker Services under the Department of Labor and Regulation.

Of the six applicants for the job, five were Native Americans, the lawsuit alleges.

After interviewing Goodman and the others, the lawsuit says, the DSS "decided to hire no one for the Employment Specialist position and canceled its requisition for the Employment Specialist position on December 12, 2010.

"The next day, December 13, 2010, DSS continued to seek applicants for the Employment Specialist position by opening another vacancy announcement for an Employment Specialist at Pine Ridge."

The DSS hired a white woman who was a 2010 college graduate "with limited work experience mostly centered in a retail and office environment," the lawsuit says.

"Upon information and belief," the lawsuit concludes, "qualified Native American applicants have been rejected by DSS for other jobs as specialist based upon their race."

EEOC called in

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When he was notified that he was not selected for the job, Goodman filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. His EEOC complaint, the lawsuit says, alleges "that DSS has a policy of hiring white applicants in the higher-paying specialist position, such as Employment Specialist, while only hiring Native-American applicants for lower paying positions."

The EEOC investigated the complaint and concluded a discrimination violation had occurred.

"The EEOC attempted unsuccessfully to achieve a voluntary resolution of the charge through conciliation, and subsequently referred the charge to the United States Department of Justice," the lawsuit says.

According to statistics in the lawsuit, over a 25-month period starting in January 2010, the DSS listed 18 open specialist jobs. Although Native Americans accounted for 40 percent of the applicants, DSS hired 11 white candidates, one Native American and closed the other six vacancies without hiring anyone.

"In some cases," the lawsuit says, "DSS passed over a well-qualified Native American candidate in favor of a white applicant with lesser qualifications. In others, DSS closed vacancy announcements rather than select a well-qualified Native American candidate."

The lawsuit is seeking several outcomes, including requiring the DSS to hire Goodman "in the next available Employment Specialist position at DSS's Pine Ridge Office."

If the suit is successful, Goodman "and other similarly situated Native American applicants" could receive back pay and "all other appropriate monetary relief ... for the loss they suffered as a result of the discriminatory conduct."

Further, Goodman and others may receive "compensatory damages ... for mental and/or physical injuries caused the DSS's discriminatory conduct."

Other outcomes sought include preventing the DSS from engaging in further discrimination against Native Americans and requiring the DSS "to institute policies, practices, and procedures to ensure a nondiscriminatory workplace."

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