Minnesota’s largest agencies have inequitable hiring practices

An Executive Order from Governor Dayton could eliminate them

Letter to the editor

People of color currently represent 18 percent of Minnesota’s population and their percent of the total population continues to increase. In Ramsey and Hennepin counties respectively, people of color represent 34 and 29 percent of the population. (See “Everybody In — A Report to Reduce Racial Employment Disparities in the Ramsey County Metro Area,” and Minnesota Quick Facts, U.S. Census Data.)

Unfortunately, people of color are often not “considered, groomed or selected for high-level positions because of “stereotypical views or unconscious bias.” They are less likely to receive crucial information about career advancement…[the] informal or unwritten rules of the workplace or information about job opportunities” (see 2013 EEOC African American Workforce Report, www.eeoc.gov/federal/reports/aawg.cfm).

This concern could have been written about employment prospects for racial/ethnic minorities at Minnesota state agencies, where data shows that agency temporary appointments — those that serve as on-the-job training and informal advancement opportunities — are simply not available on an equitable basis to persons of color. Minnesota agency “work out of class” and “temporary unclassified appointments” can give individuals a temporary job offering experience, training and opportunity for advancement. These opportunities can lead to permanent employment.

However, other than AFSCME work out of class appointments, agencies are not required to post these appointments and persons are often hand-selected without any competitive process or objective documentation showing that bias did not affect the decision. Minnesota state agency data shows that from 2013-2014:

Racial/ethnic minorities filled only six percent of all state agency work out of class appointments. Further, out of 52 managerial-level work out of class appointments statewide, only one was filled by a racial/ethnic minority. Even more troubling, of the largest state agencies, MnDOT, MnDNR and MnDOC placed no racial/ethnic minorities in managerial level work out of class appointments and the MN Department of Human Services placed only one in a managerial work out of class appointment.

Of the 87 total MN Dept. of Natural Resources’ work out of class positions, only one was filled by a racial/ethnic minority.

Racial/ethnic minorities were appointed to only five percent of MnDOT’s total 529 work out of class appointments, with the majority appointed to AFSCME positions. MnDOC placed only 3.7 percent of racial/ethnic minorities in its work out of class appointments with the majority being in the AFSCME unit.

Eliminating class-based, discriminatory barriers in recruitment and hiring is one of six national priorities identified by the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan. Recently, the EEOC reached a $415,000 settlement with a Maryland company, which will provide comprehensive equitable relief to resolve a class-based race, sex and national origin discrimination lawsuit whereby the company has agreed to discontinue “word-of-mouth recruitment practices” (see www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/11-13-14.cfm).

If this sounds familiar it should. In January 2003 the MnDOC paid $440,000 to settle a race discrimination lawsuit brought by  the NAACP and Minnesota attorney Jeff Anderson. As part of the settlement, an African American task force was established to examine the MnDOC’s recruitment, hiring, promotions, training, discipline and retention of African Americans. Although the task force recommended a number of changes including opening up higher level work out of class opportunities, the above data shows MnDOC did not take their recommendations seriously.

Governor Dayton and his appointed agency heads are ultimately responsible for removing systemic and discriminatory barriers in employment practices. They do not need the federal EEOC to give them a nudge in this respect. However, that may eventually be inevitable. Because agency heads have consistently and regularly delegated away their equal employment opportunity responsibilities, many are unaware of their own agency’s particular inequitable barriers and most simply do not get personally involved in tearing down these barriers, even though that is precisely their responsibility.

Even where agency heads do make progress in eliminating disparities, the continuity of their efforts and the institutional memory of practices that are effective is interrupted and often lost each time a new governor is elected and a new slate of agency heads appointed. This is why Governor Dayton should take meaningful action to institutionalize effective, equitable statewide employment practices and policies that bring the full complement of qualified Minnesotans into the workforce. If this occurred, state government employment will begin to reflect the increasing diversity of Minnesota’s population.

I have focused on racial/ethnic disparities in this piece, but MMB’s data similarly shows concerning disparities based on disability. The bottom line is that these appointments should be effectively posted for a minimum time period, and all qualified employees/applicants should be fairly considered.

Governor Dayton could easily require his agency heads to make this happen via Executive Order or a personal directive. He could easily direct MMB Commissioner Myron Frans to seal this and other equitable employment practices in a statewide policy that will remain even when governors and commissioners come and go. Commissioners Zelle, Roy, Jesson, Landwehr and other agency heads could also roll up their sleeves and get the ball rolling via a directive to their appropriate agency personnel.

Laurie A. Stoffer-Steiger, an attorney at law, lives in Cottage Grove. She has worked for the State of Minnesota in the areas of equal employment opportunity, labor relations and as a title attorney.