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Justice Department sues Baltimore County for discriminating against black applicants

The DOJ lawsuit accuses the Maryland county of discriminating against black applicants for police officer positions.
Police tape partially blocks the entrance to the Baltimore Metro Subway.
Police tape partially blocks the entrance to the Baltimore Metro Subway.Jerry Jackson / The Baltimore Sun via AP file

TOWSON, Md.⁠ — A Maryland county's written exams for hiring police officers have discriminated against black applicants for several years, the U.S. Justice Department alleged Tuesday in a lawsuit.

The federal lawsuit, filed by the department's civil rights division, claims Baltimore County's use of the pass/fail written exams led to hiring fewer blacks as entry-level police officers and police cadets than it would have had it used a "non-discriminatory screening device."

The county has administered at least three versions of an exam for hiring police officers since January 2013, and black applicants passed each of them at a "statistically significant" lower rate than white applicants, the lawsuit says. Applicants had to pass the exams to advance in the police department's multi-stage hiring process.

Using the exams as a screening device is not "job related" for police officers or consistent with "business necessity," the suit claims.

County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said the county has stopped using the test in question and, "while denying any liability for actions by prior administrations," is willing to negotiate with the Justice Department to resolve the case.

"A law enforcement agency should look like the community it serves," Olszewski said in a statement. "As I have said repeatedly since taking office, I am committed to increasing diversity in the county's Police Department."

The lawsuit asks for a court order barring the county from using written exams in the hiring process for police officers "where such use results in a disparate impact on African Americans." It also seeks "whole remedial relief to all persons who have suffered individual loss as a result of the discrimination" alleged in the complaint.