South Dakota agency sued for bias against Native applicants

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

The Department of Justice filed suit against the South Dakota Department of Social Services, accusing the agency of discriminating against Native Americans who sought employment.

According to the complaint that was filed in federal court, the department repeatedly rejected qualified Native applicants for jobs on the Pine Ridge Reservation. From 2010 through 2012, the agency hired 11 non-Natives and just one Native person even though 40 percent of applicants were Native, DOJ said.

“Federal law provides all Americans with equal opportunity to compete for jobs on a level playing field free from racial discrimination,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division said in a press release. “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.”

Cedric Goodman, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, was among those who applied for jobs at the Pine Ridge office. The suit alleges he was passed over for a non-Native who was less qualified. That person was hired a day after the agency mysteriously "closed" the job vacancy, according to DOJ.

"Upon information and belief, from January 1, 2010 to January 31, 2012, DSS posted 18 Specialist positions. Although approximately forty percent of the applications it received were from Native Americans, DSS ultimately hired 11 (92%) white candidates and one (8%) Native American candidate," the complaint reads. "DSS closed the other six vacancies without making a selection. In some cases, 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."

This isn't the first time that the agency has faced scrutiny for its dealings in Indian Country. In April, a federal judge determined that the department has been violating the Indian Child Welfare Act by removing Indian children from their communities at alarming rates..

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