The Justice Department accused the Virginia highway department of discriminating against blacks and women again yesterday, revising and refiling a lawsuit that a federal judge in Richmond had dismissed as unfair to white males.
The federal government renewed its charge that the vast highway department has a "pattern and practice" of bias in hiring and promotion.
In a proposed consent decree, Virginia agreed a second time to set specific hiring goals for blacks and women and pay as much as $1 million to victims of discrimination.
This time, however, Assistant Attorney General William Bradford Reynolds personally intervened in the case, filing an affidavit seeking to assure District Judge D. Dortch Warriner that the new decree did not ask Virginia to set hiring quotas.
"I would not have approved the proposed decree if in my judgment it had done so," Reynolds wrote.
Warriner, a conservative from Southside Virginia, rejected the earlier settlement Jan. 7, complaining in a stinging order that the federal government was seeking to impose hiring quotas on the state in the guise of goals.
"Calling a quota a goal is like calling the tail on Mr. Lincoln's sheep a fifth leg," the judge wrote then. "It is still a sheep's tail."
Reynolds said in his affidavit that he had reviewed the complaint in light of Warriner's objections. "I subsequently determined that the decree did not as clearly preclude any possibility of preferences as I believe the parties intended," he said, adding that he then directed that new language be added to the complaint.
That new language reaffirms Justice's position that the hiring goals do not require the highway department, which employs more than 10,000 people, "to grant a preference in hiring or promotion to a person who is less qualified over a more qualified person."
Justice also filed affidavits yesterday listing the credentials of the government attorneys who investigated the case, responding to doubts about their skill that Warriner had expressed when he rejected the complaint.
"The mere fact that one is a government lawyer is no guarantee that he is an able, experienced, knowledgeable, and dependable lawyer," Warriner wrote in his earlier decision.
The affidavit points out that government lawyer Katherine Ransel won a department award for her prosecution of Fairfax County in a similar discrimination suit last year.
The complaint and proposed consent decree filed yesterday, which contain essentially the same accusations and remedies as in Justice's Dec. 30 suit, must also be considered by the court. If Warriner again rejects the settlement, according to officials familiar with the case, Justice could appeal his decision, an option the government considered and rejected this time.
No date has been set for the hearing on the amended complaint, lawyers in Richmond said.
Virginia officials, who had agreed to the earlier settlement without admitting any of the charges were true, signed the new complaint but declined to comment yesterday. "While it is before the judge, it would be inappropriate to say anything," a spokesman for the state attorney general said.
If the agreement is accepted, the highway department will have to establish new training programs to help blacks and women advance and establish new criteria for hiring and promotion to replace what Justice called the "subjective and discretionary" standards of the past.
The department will also have to pay as much as $4,500 to each worker or job applicant who was discriminated against since 1975, to a maximum of $1 million. The department also agreed to set specific hiring goals for each category of worker around the state.