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Dell settles discrimination lawsuit for $9.1M

Dell Inc. has agreed to settle a federal gender-discrimination class action lawsuit brought by former employees for $9.1 million.

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, $5.6 million will be used for payments to plaintiffs and for litigation costs, Dell officials said.

Round Rock-based Dell (Nasdaq: DELL), the No. 2 computer maker in the world, employs 16,000 local workers. The company plans to reconsider its employment practices and enlist outside experts to recommend improvements, officials said.

According to a court filing, a portion of the money will go to women employed by Dell in the U.S. for at least one day in certain job classifications between Feb. 14, 2007, and Dec. 31, 2008 as back pay.

The remaining $3.5 million will be used to raise current C1 to D3-level female employees’ base pay to match the pay of their male counterparts. Dell said it will conduct a review of salaries first.

The terms were laid out in a joint statement issued by Dell and the former employees. Dell did not admit any wrongdoing by agreeing to the settlement.

The suit was filed last October by former Dell human resources manager Jill Hubley, who claimed Dell showed a pattern of gender discrimination in the way it compensated and promoted female employees. A second former manager, Laura Guenther, later joined the suit, The Associated Press reported.


Sotomayor hearings: Judge says affirmative action still needed


Affirmative action is still necessary in some cases and a remedy that has been recognized again and again by the courts. That’s essentially what Sonia Sotomayor told the Senate Judiciary Committee, responding to a question by Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.).

Kohl offered up a multi-part question, asking her view of affirmative action and its value and whether it is more necessary for education or employment issues. Sotomayor, taking notes, began her response by saying that affirmative action was “a legislative determination.”


She then noted that the 14th Amendment requires equal protection under law for all. The courts have recognized, she said, that at some times race can be considered to protect some rights.

Sotomayor recalled the 2003 Supreme Court decision on admissions policies at the University of Michigan, which upheld an affirmative action program, though with some restrictions.

The court upheld the affirmative action policy at the university’s law school because an individual student’s race was weighed as one factor in deciding who was admitted. However, the justices struck down the school’s undergraduate admissions policy because all minority students received bonus points that nearly ensured their admission.

In that decision, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said that affirmative action — narrowly defined — was still needed, although ideally would not be necessary in 25 years. Sotomayor agreed that perhaps affirmative action would not be needed some day. “That’s the hope,” she said.

— Steve Padilla

Powell still supportive of affirmative action

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell argued that some form of affirmative action is still necessary to ensure minorities are fairly represented at colleges and in the private sector.

“If you have a public institution…where you’re responsible for educating the public, not just a part of the public, but the public, and as you are looking at your student population, if you find that there are some parts of the public who are not properly represented in your institution, shouldn’t you do something about that?” Powell asked.

“You don’t have an obligation to bring in anybody who’s not able to do the work. You should always have qualifications,” Powell added. “But once you have established those qualifications, is there something wrong with a taxpayer-funded institution not making sure that it is representing the entire public, the entire population? And I think that’s a good rule for private institutions as well.”

Powell sounded supportive of the confirmation of Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, calling her a “very gifted and accomplished woman” with a ” judicial record that seems to be balanced and tries to follow the law.”  He criticized those who called her a reverse racist because of her support of affirmative action.

“What we can’t continue to have is to have somebody like a Judge Sotomayor … called a racist, a reverse racist and she ought to withdraw her nomination because we’re mad at her,” Powell said

Powell also argued his party still isn’t sensitive enough to the needs of minorities, citing the party’s poor performance in 2008 with African-Americans and Hispanics. He also took an unmistakable jab at conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh in arguing that the country still has a problem talking honestly about race

“When you have non-elected officials, such as we have in our party, who immediately shout racism, or somebody who is quite prominent in the media says that the only basis upon which I could possibly have supported Obama was because he was black and I was black, even though I laid out my judgment on the candidates, then we still have a problem,” Powell said.

Sotomayor embracing affirmative action, then and now

Sonia Sotomayor
Gerald Herbert / Associated Press
Sonia Sotomayor, whose Supreme Court confirmation hearings begin in July, sat on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, which sued to overturn New York City’s civil service exams in the 1980s.
The high court nominee’s ruling on New Haven firefighters recalls a 1980s bias case involving a Puerto Rican advocacy group of which she was a board member.
By James Oliphant and David G. Savage and Andrew Zajac
June 15, 2009
Reporting from Washington and New York — When Sonia Sotomayor goes before the Senate next month for her Supreme Court confirmation hearing, the questioning is likely to focus on her work as a civil rights advocate in the 1980s as much as on her nearly two decades on the federal bench.

That is because she was a board member of a Puerto Rican advocacy group that sued to overturn New York City’s civil service exams and to win more police and firefighter jobs for Latinos.

Sotomayor embraced affirmative action and later described herself as leading an “attack” on testing and promotional exams that favored whites and limited the opportunities for minorities.

Twenty-five years later, as a high court nominee, she is being criticized for a ruling that threw out a suit by white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., who had earned top scores on a department exam but were passed over for promotion.

As a result, her hearings promise to revive a decades-old debate about the role of race and ethnicity in hiring decisions, and the use of quotas to achieve diversity.

It is a thread that has run through much of Sotomayor’s life — beginning with her admission to Princeton University and Yale Law School, where she excelled.

“I am a product of affirmative action,” Sotomayor said in a 1994 interview. “I am the perfect affirmative action baby.”

Targeting exams

As a lawyer in the 1980s, before being appointed to a federal judgeship, Sotomayor sat on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, a New York-based group modeled after a similar unit established by the NAACP.

The fund sought to “use the law to create opportunities for Latinos,” said Cesar Perales, co-founder and president of the group, now called LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “We think the law can ensure a level playing field.”

While Sotomayor sat on the board, the fund moved beyond traditional civil rights cases and began to address what she called “economic problems” — wage disparities and housing discrimination. A major target became civil service exams that the fund argued had a negative effect on Latinos and other minorities. It filed separate suits against New York City’s police, fire and sanitation departments.

In 1984, while Sotomayor was on the board, the fund alleged on behalf of a group of Latino police officers that a sergeant’s exam violated federal law because minorities did poorly on the test and its questions were not related to being an effective police supervisor. Fewer than 80% of the test takers were white, but the results indicated they would get 95% of the promotions.

The New Haven case presents an almost identical issue.

While on the federal appeals court in Manhattan, Sotomayor joined a three-judge ruling that last year rejected a discrimination claim filed by a group of firefighters — 19 white and one Latino. They scored well on a promotional test, but New Haven decided to drop the test scores because no blacks would be promoted. The city’s lawyers said because the test had a “disparate impact” on minorities, New Haven could be sued by black firefighters if the results were used.

The Supreme Court in April heard an appeal, and the justices are expected to rule on the case in the next two weeks.

New Haven case

Conservative groups have been urging Republican senators to grill Sotomayor over the firefighter case. Some members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have said they were troubled as well.

“The concern is that above the Supreme Court it says, ‘Equal justice under law,’ ” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas.) said this month, referring to the inscription on the front of the court’s building. “The focus shouldn’t be on the umpire and what their sex or gender is, or ethnicity. It ought to be on the game.”

But New Haven may have been in the kind of bind that New York found itself in the 1980s.

Frederick A.O. Schwarz Jr., New York City’s top lawyer at the time, said recently that “it was almost impossible to prove that pen-and-paper tests” reflected who was most qualified for promotion. At the same time, the police commissioner was in desperate need of new sergeants. So the department settled the case by agreeing to promote an extra 100 black officers and 60 Latinos.

New York “had to reach down and [promote] some patrol officers who were black and Latinos who hadn’t passed” the test, said Kenneth Kimerling, the defense fund’s lawyer on the case.

Though Sotomayor was not actively involved in litigating the case, she has taken credit for helping to develop the group’s policy of filing such suits.

As in the New Haven case, some white officers who were passed over for promotion sued, contending they were victims of reverse discrimination. The U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in 1987 — a decade before Sotomayor joined — upheld the settlement, as did the U.S. Supreme Court by a 4-4 tie.

Sotomayor has said she too had benefited from having her test results ignored.

In an interview in the 1990s, she said her “test scores were not comparable to that of my colleagues at Princeton or Yale — [but] not so far off the mark that I wasn’t able to succeed at those institutions.”

“But,” she added, “if we had gone through the traditional numbers route of those institutions, it would have been highly questionable whether I would have been accepted.”

5 officers sue Burbank police for discrimination


BURBANK, Calif.—Five Burbank police officers filed a lawsuit against the department, the city and police officials alleging discrimination and sexual harassment against minority officers.

The lawsuit, filed this week in Los Angeles County Superior Court, seeks damages of up to $25 million, said the plaintiffs’ attorney. It also names seven police officials who allegedly tolerated slurs about race, ethnicity and sexual preference directed at officers and suspects.

The plaintiffs say those who reported the harassment were threatened and demoted. They also allege that police Chief Tim Stehr and other officials conspired to exclude minorities from the best jobs in the department.

Plaintiff’s attorney Solomon Gresen said the Police Department “is run as an insider’s club where if you aren’t white, male and heterosexual you had better keep your mouth shut and play along with the bigots or suffer the consequences.”

The plaintiffs said they were regularly exposed to slurs such as “beaner,” “towel head” and other objectionable language.

A message left with the department was not immediately returned Friday night.

Lt. Omar Rodriguez, a 21-year veteran of the department and one of the plaintiffs, claims he was put on administrative leave and reassigned to patrol after he filed a complaint about harassment and discrimination.

Cindy Guillen-Gomez, also a plaintiff, claims she was threatened with rape and passed over for promotion infavor of men who scored less than she did on the detective examination.

She said she was told that she and other female officers were “worthless,” and the verbal abuse worsened when she became pregnant.

Two other plaintiffs, Elfego Rodriguez and Steve Karagiosian, said a special unit was disbanded to demote them after they complained about racial harassment.

City remains calm after shooting of black cop raises fears of racism


New Yorkers anxious for answers in the tragic friendly fire death of an off-duty cop agreed Friday that fixing blame won’t be as simple as black and white.

“We’re hoping that nobody jumps to conclusions on this,” said Bishop S.N. Snipes, one of several clergy members at a memorial prayer vigil in Harlem. “We want to hear both sides.”

The measured response to the Harlem slaying of an off-duty black cop by a white officer was echoed repeatedly – even by the family of the victim, two-year NYPD veteran Omar Edwards.

“Omar got shot for doing his job,” said his teary uncle, Jerome Harding, after visiting Edwards’ widow and two kids. “I’m going to wait for the results of the investigation before saying anything else.”

The cop’s devastated father, Ricardo Edwards, agreed.

“There will be time to talk about punishments,” he said outside his son’s Brooklyn home. “Now is a time to mourn.”

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The Rev. Al Sharpton and city Controller William Thompson were among those calling for an independent investigation of the Thursday night tragedy.

“I think this investigation cannot be left with the local police,” Sharpton said. “We need a fair and impartial investigation, with nobody jumping to conclusions.”

Sharpton said he got a call within 40 minutes of the shooting from a badly shaken black cop who worked with Edwards in the police housing bureau.

“Black police officers are very concerned,” said Sharpton, who will push for an outside probe at a press conference today.

Mayoral candidate Thompson echoed Sharpton about the shooting on a rainy night in Harlem.

“Given the circumstances and many questions surrounding this horrible incident, there must be an independent investigation,” he said.

Along 125th St., where Edwards was shot three times, some voices were less moderate.

“To me, it’s a real, real prejudice with the police,” said Harlem resident Pedro Negron, 47. “I’m very surprised, shocked. I can’t even believe it.”

Readers on the Daily News Web site were divided, although some agreed with Negron.

“I pray to God this family files a wrongful death suit and gets big bucks,” wrote reader Stephanie Manero. “I am sick and tired of having to feel sorry for cops who make ‘mistakes.'”

Kisna Morris, 30, of East Harlem, thought the shooter and victim shared the fault. Edwards was running with his 9-mm. gun drawn when he was shot.

“Both ends should have been a little more trained,” she said.

Retired NYPD detective Carlton Berkley was among the crowd at the Harlem prayer vigil. Berkley, a member of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement, was sorrowful over Edwards’ death but sympathetic toward the shooter.

Officers “only have a [fraction] of a second to make a life or death decision,” Berkley said. “We don’t have all the facts, so it’s hard to make a call right now.”

Sotomayor’s Focus on Race Issues May Be Hurdle

WASHINGTON — The selection of Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court has opened a new battle in the fight over affirmative action and other race-conscious remedies for patterns of inequality, with each side invoking the election of the first black president in support of its cause.

The 1993 nomination of Lani Guinier, center, to a top Justice post was withdrawn over her writings on minority voting.

Judge Sotomayor, whose parents moved to New York from Puerto Rico, has championed the importance of considering race and ethnicity in admissions, hiring and even judicial selection at almost every stage of her career — as a student activist at Princeton and at Yale Law School, as a board member of left-leaning Hispanic advocacy groups and as a federal judge arguing for diversity on the bench.

Now conservatives say her strong identification with such race-based approaches to the law is perhaps the strongest argument against her confirmation, contending that her views put her outside an evolving consensus that such race-conscious public policy is growing obsolete.

“The American ideal is that justice should be colorblind,” said Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican on the Judiciary Committee. “As we see people like Barack Obama achieve the highest office in the land and Judge Sotomayor’s own nomination to the highest court, I think it is harder and harder to see the justifications for race-conscious decisions across the board.”

Mr. Cornyn added, “This is a hot-button issue and one that needs to be confronted head on.”

Gary Marx, executive director of the conservative Judicial Confirmation Network, said he saw a playbook for the campaign against Judge Sotomayor in the successful attacks on Lani Guinier, whose 1993 nomination to a top Justice Department post was withdrawn after an outcry over her writings arguing for alternative voting systems intended to better represent minorities.

“We will see ‘racial quotas’ become a much bigger issue than they might have been had another nominee been brought forward,” Mr. Marx said.

But civil rights advocates, including Ms. Guinier, say times have changed in their favor, also citing Mr. Obama’s election. In an interview, Ms. Guinier said she saw the debate over Judge Sotomayor’s nomination in part as an opportunity for civil rights advocates to push back against the kind of criticism that had thwarted her own nomination.

“It is easy to understand the idea of viewing an individual on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin,” Ms. Guinier said, but race also is a social phenomenon of politics, history and economics that demand deliberate policy responses.

Americans often see the issue in an either-or way — “ you are race-conscious or race-neutral,” she said. “But the election of Barack Obama has served as an emancipatory moment, and people are ready to discuss and listen to more nuanced arguments.”

Having Mr. Obama as a spokesman is different as well, said Hilary O. Shelton, director of the Washington bureau of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “The American people chose change — symbolically, but in policy as well,” Mr. Shelton said. “The American people see things differently now.”

What is more, many civil rights groups say, Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation could provide an anchor against the current direction of the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who has led the more conservative bench toward a sweeping re-examination of government reliance on racial classifications, whether in school desegregation plans or landmark voting rights laws.

“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote in 2007, summing up his approach in one of the most memorable lines of his opinions.

Samuel Issacharoff, a professor at New York University Law School, said, “There is a tendency to say ‘The time has run, things are different, change has happened,’ ” adding, “It is an emerging theme of the Roberts court.”

Judge Sotomayor is not known to have identified herself as a beneficiary of affirmative action, but she has described her academic struggles as a new student at Princeton from a Roman Catholic school in the Bronx — one of about 20 Hispanics on a campus with more than 2,000 students.

She spent summers reading children’s classics she had missed in a Spanish-speaking home and “re-teaching” herself to write “proper English” by reading elementary grammar books. Only with the outside help of a professor who served as her mentor did she catch up academically, ultimately graduating at the top of her class.

She became the outspoken leader of a Puerto Rican student group, leading other Hispanics to file a complaint against Princeton with the federal government to force the hiring of Hispanic faculty members and administrators. “She was very passionate about affirmative action for women and minorities,” said Charles Hey, another Puerto Rican student.

At Yale Law School, she was co-chairman of a group for Latin, Asian and Native American students — a catchall group for nonblack minorities. There she led fellow students in meetings with the dean to push for the hiring of more Hispanic faculty members at the law school. And, friends say, she shared the alarm of others in the group when the Supreme Court prohibited the use of quotas in university admissions in its 1978 decision Regents of the University of California v. Bakke.

As a lawyer, she joined the National Council of La Raza and the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund, two Hispanic civil rights groups that advocate for vigorous affirmative action. As a judge, she has repeatedly argued for diversity on the bench by alluding to the insights she gleaned from her Latina background.

In one of the few cases dealing with the subject that she helped decide on the federal appeals court, Ricci v. New Haven, she ruled in favor of the city’s ’s decision to discard the results of an exam to select firefighters for promotion because too few minority firefighters scored high enough to advance. White firefighters who had scored well on the discarded test sued, and the Supreme Court heard arguments on the case in April.

“Her nomination and the Ricci case have brought racial quotas back as a national issue,” said Mr. Marx of the Judicial Confirmation Network.

The public response, however, is hard to foresee. Few groups conducted public polls on the issue as it faded in recent years, and the results from those that did reveal a consistent ambivalence, said Michael Dimock, a pollster with the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

When asked a question about “affirmative action or preferential treatment for minorities,” the public has consistently opposed the idea by a margin of two to one. But when asked about “affirmative action programs designed to help women and minorities,” an even bigger majority has supported them.

And, Mr. Dimock said, the election of Mr. Obama does not appear to have changed either result.