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Feds, Cobb County settle race discrimination claim

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(The Center Square) — The federal government has settled with Cobb County over claims that the county’s hiring violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

County taxpayers are on the hook for $750,000 in back pay to eligible Black firefighter candidates who were denied employment with the Cobb County Fire Department because of contested employment practices. The county will also make up to 16 “priority hires” with retroactive seniority from the applicants disqualified by the practices.

According to the feds, the county started using ACCUPLACER, a Technical College System of Georgia-developed written exam to identify the appropriate course level for college students, as part of its hiring process in 2020. Additionally, officials started using a credit check in 2016.

The county said it ended both practices in 2020.

“This settlement should send a strong message to employers that reliance on a job applicant’s credit history may be discriminatory and unlawful,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “Consumer credit checks create a Catch-22 for people seeking access to job opportunities.

“Cobb County’s hiring practices created artificial barriers that prevented qualified Black job candidates from being considered for firefighter positions,” Clarke added. “Discriminatory barriers, like credit checks, not only cost candidates a fair chance at a job, they also prevent the public from being served by firefighters drawn from the most robust hiring pool possible.”

Despite the resolution, Cobb County did not admit to wrongdoing. A county spokesperson declined to comment beyond an announcement the county published last month before county commissioners approved the agreement on April 9, which prompted this week’s lawsuit and settlement.

“We are pleased that the DOJ’s comprehensive review confirmed no intentional discrimination in our hiring practices and identified no issues with our current process,” Cobb County Fire Chief Bill Johnson said in the announcement. “We are dedicated to continuing our efforts to recruit, hire, and retain well-qualified firefighters to serve Cobb’s citizens.”