U.S. District Court Judge John H. Pratt yesterday postponed a decision on whether to hold officials of the Labor and Education departments in contempt of court, but he found both departments guilty of violating a court-ordered timetable for enforcing civil rights laws.
"The order has been violated in many important respects, and we are not at all convinced these violations will be taken care of and eventually eliminated without the coercive power of the court," Pratt said. He added that he was postponing a decision on the contempt citations requested by civil rights lawyers because the federal officials have been in their jobs only about a year.
Pratt ordered the Department of Education to finish a study of its compliance record by June 1, and gave the two departments until Aug. 15 to negotiate with plaintiffs in the case over any desired changes in enforcement timetables.
In testimony last week, Clarence Thomas, head of the Office for Civil Rights at the Education Department, acknowledged that he ignored court-ordered time limits in some cases, but said he did so in hopes of negotiating settlements. Thomas is President Reagan's choice to head the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Other government employes testified that the timetables are unrealistically strict and impossible to meet.
The order on the enforcement timetables was issued in 1975 by Pratt after attorneys for black parents complained that the Department of Health, Education and Welfare was slow in enforcing racial discrimination laws in southern schools and colleges. The black parents brought the case in 1970 and groups representing women, Hispanics and handicapped persons have since joined in.
Pratt warned yesterday that he has not yet rejected the request for a contempt citation and that it will be pending if the two departments are not able to reach an agreement with the plaintiffs by the Aug. 15 deadline.