Youth on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Photo: Hamner_Fotos

South Dakota settles Native discrimination lawsuit for $350,000

The state of South Dakota has agreed to pay $350,000 to Native American job applicants as part of a settlement negotiated by the federal government.

The settlement resolves a lawsuit initiated by the Department of Justice in November 2015. The complaint alleged that the South Dakota Department of Social Services discriminated against against Native Americans who applied for jobs at the agency's office on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

“The Civil Rights Division is committed to enforcing the nation’s anti-discrimination laws on behalf of all Americans, including Native Americans, to make sure they are—as the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King challenged 56 years ago—judged by the ‘content of their character’ and not the ‘color of their skin,’” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of DOJ's Civil Rights Division said in a press release.

“This settlement helps move our nation towards Dr. King’s dream of making opportunity available to all unfettered by unlawful discrimination," Dreiband said. "It provides monetary relief for Native American applicants, ensures equal opportunity to compete for jobs, and establishes a reporting and oversight process to guard against racial discrimination in the future.”

According to the lawsuit, which was amended in November 2016, the state repeatedly rejected qualified Native Americans for jobs at Pine Ridge. From 2010 through 2012, the agency hired 11 non-Natives and just one Native person even though 40 percent of applicants were Native, the federal government said at the time.

Cedric Goodman, who was a citizen of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, was among those who experienced mistreatment. The suit alleged he was passed over for a position at Pine Ridge by a non-Native who was less qualified -- a person was hired a day after the state agency mysteriously "closed" the job vacancy, according to the lawsuit.

Goodman died in February 2019, before his complaint was resolved. His estate will receive $10,000 out of the settlement, according to the agreement filed in federal court on Wednesday.

The remaining $340,000 will be split among the 60 Native Americans who applied for jobs at the Pine Ridge office. If additional claimants are deemed eligible, they can also seek a share of the settlement.

Although the state agreed to the $350,000 settlement, it is not admitting to anything illegal. "Nothing in this Agreement shall be construed as an admission by DSS of any liability or wrongdoing," the document reads.

The settlement marks another instance of the South Dakota Department of Social Services facing scrutiny for its dealings in Indian Country. In April 2015, a federal judge determined that the agency violated the Indian Child Welfare Act by removing Indian children from their communities at alarming rates.

The ruling was later reversed on appeal, but on legal grounds, not on the merits or the facts of the case. The state has since implemented improvements sought by Indian parents and guardians and by the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

Read More on the Story
State Paying $350,000 To Settle Claims Of Discrimination Against Native Americans (South Dakota Public Broadcasting January 29, 2020)
South Dakota settles Native American discrimination lawsuit brought by Justice Department (The Sioux Falls Argus Leader January 30, 2020)

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