Archives | 1990 New York Times

Hiring Quotas Exist, but Employers Won’t Tell

, Page 00020The New York Times Archives

To the Editor:

”Enough Haggling on Civil Rights” (editorial, July 17) argues that it is a red herring to claim that the civil rights bill of 1990 would result in quotas, for neither President Bush nor business lobbyists ”produce any evidence that the 1971 ruling resulted in job quotas.” You have taken employers’ fear of self-incrimination in revealing their use of quotas for the absence of evidence that they have been forced to use them.

It is an open secret among personnel professionals that race-conscious hiring has become the rule, not the exception, since the 1971 Griggs ruling you refer to, and moreover that such practices are routinely camouflaged by statistical legerdemain or newspeak about what constitutes merit hiring. While employers often resort to quotas or other race-conscious hiring procedures to avoid litigation under Griggs, they must deny such practices publicly to avoid reverse discrimination suits. We need not wonder why employers are not coming forth to document the legacy of Griggs.

One of America’s best-kept open secrets is that the Employment Service of the Department of Labor has unabashedly promulgated quotas. In 1981 the service recommended that state employment agencies adopt a race-conscious way of recomputing test scores on the Employment Service aptitude test battery to avoid adverse impact when referring job applicants to employers.

Under the recommended procedure, called race-norming, each candidate’s score is reported not in relation to those of all other candidates, but only in relation to the scores of applicants of the same racial group. Blacks are compared only with other blacks, Hispanics only with other Hispanics and ”others” with all but blacks and Hispanics. Race-norming does the work of quotas by, in effect, giving bonus points to all members of groups that tend to score lower than others, offsetting average differences in scores among groups.

The score adjustments are not trivial. An unadjusted score that places a job applicant at the 15th percentile among whites would, after race-norming, typically place a black near the white 50th percentile. Likewise, unadjusted scores at the white 50th percentile would, after race-norming, typically place a black near the 85th percentile for white job applicants.

The Employment Service recommended this system of racial quotas, despite showing that its aptitude tests meet the Griggs job-relatedness criterion, simply to avoid adverse impact, which is the trigger for litigation established by Griggs and its progeny. By 1986, state employment agencies in 40 states were using the United States Employment Service system to some extent.

This system of race-conscious score adjustments has been subjected to scientific scrutiny and some public debate since 1986, when Assistant Attorney General William Bradford Reynolds threatened to sue the Labor Department for reverse discrimination. Whatever the system’s eventual fate may be, its use by 40 states in the last decade belies the claim that Griggs did not lead to quotas.



Newark, Del., July 18, 1990

The writer is a professor of education at the University of Delaware.