Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin and A.T. Wall, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections (DOC), today announced a settlement agreement between the State of Rhode Island and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ filed a lawsuit in 2014 against the State and DOC alleging unintentional discrimination due to the DOC entrance exams having an adverse impact on African-American and Hispanic entry-level correctional officer candidates. The DOJ sought injunctive relief and damages that included job offers and monetary relief for African Americans and Hispanics who did not pass the entrance exams for the years 2000 to 2013.
The R.I. Attorney General's Office litigated this case and engaged in mediation with the DOJ, overseen by U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Lincoln Almond, where the parties reached a settlement agreement. The settlement is subject to approval by the U.S. District Court. The parties filed the proposed Settlement Agreement today along with a joint motion seeking court approval of the Agreement and the scheduling of a fairness hearing before United States District Court Chief Judge William Smith.
Attorney General Peter Kilmartin said, "We believe that this settlement agreement is a fair resolution to this case and is in the best interest of the state financially. It protects the State's interest in hiring qualified candidates for the position of correctional officer. While there is a financial component to the settlement, the cost is small compared to the costs we would incur with continued litigation."
Director A.T. Wall also expressed his satisfaction with the settlement stating, "The settlement reaffirms the DOC's continued commitment to diversifying its ranks."
Initially, the DOJ sought an additional 107 priority hires and the parties ultimately agreed to hire 37 individuals on a priority basis.
Among the key provisions included in the Settlement Agreement are: • The DOC will develop new selection procedures in relation to the written cognitive and video tests that were at issue in the case. • The parties (DOJ and State and RIDOC) are seeking approval to use an interim selection process while a new test is developed. o The DOJ and State have agreed, pending District Court approval, for the RIDOC to use an interim process using the written test with a passing score of 70, and the video test with a score of 70. The agreement would allow the RIDOC to rank order the candidates based on their score on the video test.
• The DOC has agreed to hire 37 of the 2,639 African Americans and Hispanics who did not pass the tests between 2000 and 2013 on a priority basis if they can pass the interim selection process or the selection process to be developed, and meet all the other qualifications for the position. The agreement provides that:
o The African American and Hispanic candidates who took and failed the CO entrance exams from 2000-2013 will be identified and contacted and offered the opportunity to take the new test. o If they pass the exam(s) and all other aspects of the selection process and graduate from the Training Academy, they will be hired. o When they are hired, they will begin at the salary step they would have been at had they passed the test when they originally took it. o The State will fund the employer portion of pension contributions for some of the time the officer would have earned had he/she been hired when he/she took the test originally (up to an agreed-upon cap). The officer will have to fund his/her share of the pension contributions. o The priority hires will accrue vacation time at the rate they would be at had they been hired when they first took and failed the test. • The State will provide $450,000 in monetary relief, to be distributed among qualified African American and Hispanic claimants from the 2,639 who took the tests between 2000 and 2013 and did not pass.
• The DOC has established a dedicated email and phone number for individuals who believe they may be eligible for monetary relief: Call (401) 462-2050 or go to www.doc.ri.gov and click on the link "DOC/DOJ Settlement Information." The Settlement Agreement, along with the joint motion for a fairness hearing, will be posted on the DOC website.
"This settlement resolves a significant legal and financial issue for the State, and allows the Department of Corrections to move forward with confidence in its hiring process," said Attorney General Peter Kilmartin. "I commend the attorneys who worked on behalf of the State in this case. This case was litigated by and the settlement reached as the result of a tremendous amount of hard work by Assistant Attorney General and Deputy Chief of the Civil Division Neil F.X. Kelly and Special Assistant Attorney General Ariele Yaffee," added Attorney General Kilmartin.
Chief Legal Counsel from the Department of Corrections, Kathleen Kelly, also assisted with the case.