Jefferson County headed to federal court today in a discrimination trial focused on hiring practices.
The county is accused of not keeping accurate records or developing policies to ensure the hiring of minorities, especially of African Americans and women. Jefferson County promised 30 years ago to do better in diversifying its workforce, but some plaintiffs claim it hasn't gone far enough.
A judge will decide whether or not the county is holding up its end of a deal with the federal government struck back in 1982.
The main criticism comes from Rowan Wilson, the attorney for the plaintiffs in the case. Ted Hosp, a former legal advisor to Governor Don Siegleman, is representing Jefferson County. All county commissioners attended today's trial.
"The county at several points came to the judge and represented as court officials that the county would do certain specific things and didn't do them," Wilson said.
An attorney for the U.S. Justice Department told the judge today in court that the department agrees with the plaintiffs' attorneys in the case.
The county has admitted their failure in both court documents and in court today. The county has also offered to have a monitor in place to oversee their hiring practices.
"I got quite a few complaints form people who came down and applied for jobs with Jefferson County and they were not hired. They would apply over and over again," Rep. Mary Moore said.
The first witness called was Robby Bennett, manager of the of Valley Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant. Bennett said he was not familiar with the county's federal consent degree. He said he tried to follow the human resources rules and guidelines, but didn't recall any training. He said the list of candidates came from the personnel board.
The trial could last for up to two weeks. The ultimate solution may end up costing the county millions of dollars to comply with the decree.
"What has been costly for the county is what it has done for the last 30 years. Most of that is in human cost is greater than any dollars and cents we might talk about now," Wilson said.
U.S. District Judge Lynwood Smith may appoint a receiver in this case who will call the shots and spend what must be done to ensure fair hiring practices. Wilson says the cost won't be covered by the county's bankruptcy case.
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