Lakota Country Times: State sued for discrimination in hiring

Indian children in South Dakota. Photo from Lakota People's Law Project

DOJ sues South Dakota for discriminating against applicants
By Brandon Ecoffey
Lakota Country Times Editor

PINE RIDGE—A lawsuit filed last Tuesday against the South Dakota Department of Social Services alleges that the often maligned state agency has repeatedly discriminated against Native American job applicants based on race.

The suit singles out one specific DSS satellite office that is located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. In a press release from the Department of Justice, prosecutors allege that by failing to hire well qualified Native American applicants for a number of different positions the DSS engaged in practices that violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

“Federal law provides all Americans with equal opportunity to compete for jobs on a level playing field free from racial discrimination,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division.  “When employers discriminate against qualified job applicants because of what they look like or where they come from, they violate both the values that shape our nation and the laws that govern it.”

According to the criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota in October of 2010, Cedric Goodman, a Native person who had vast experience as a social worker and who had also acquired experience as a supervisor, applied for the position of Employment Specialist at the Pine Ridge office. The report states that Goodman was one of several Native American applicants. After interviewing Goodman and the rest of the people who had applied for the position the DSS office closed the position and refused to hire any of the applicants that included several Native Americans who were qualified for the position.

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The next day, however, DSS reopened the position and selected a white applicant who did not display qualifications on par with the Native applicants who were previously turned down.

The instance involving Goodman however was not the first time that the DSS office had displayed discriminatory hiring practices and in fact according to the DOJ was part of a pattern or practice of race discrimination by DSS, where the agency repeatedly removed job postings and used subjective, arbitrary hiring practices to reject qualified Native American applicants for Specialist positions.

The release from the DOJ stated that these racist practices carried out by the state of South Dakota took place over a two year period beginning in 2010. During that time DSS posted 18 Specialist vacancies for its Pine Ridge Reservation Office and while close to 40% of the applicants were Native American only 1 Native person was hired by the office.

"The facts obtained during the investigation by the EEOC are disheartening," said Julianne Bowman, Chicago District Director.  "We are pleased that the Department of Justice is filing a lawsuit to resolve the injustices uncovered."

This is the second instance where federal authorities have had to step in to correct discriminator practices against the state of South Dakota. Just last year the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe successfully sued the DSS office in Pennington County alleging that the state had continually violated the rights of Native American parents by seizing there children during custody hearings and not allowing them their rights to due process.

A federal judge ruled in favor of the tribes and ordered the practice stopped.

(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at

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