(CN) - Contra Costa, Calif., no longer faces a 1975 court mandate to hire more women and minorities after a federal judge found that the county has sufficiently diversified its workforce over the years.
The 1973 class action that brought about the consent decree had alleged a pattern of employment discrimination against women and racial and ethnic minorities.
"Females and person of racial and ethnic minorities are concentrated in lowing paying dead end jobs from which there are few if any opportunities for advancement," it stated.
The plaintiffs in the case claimed that the "systematic denial to females and persons of racial and ethnic minorities of equal employment opportunity in county employment is due directly and proximately to the defendants' use of unlawful, discriminatory, and non-ability related hiring and promotion practices."
In settling the dispute, Contra Costa agreed to ensure that the percentage of minorities and women employed in each job classification and department for the county would reflect the supply of qualified women and members of minorities in the county's work force.
The decree noted that it would be imbalanced for the number of women or minorities employed to stand at "less than 80 percent of the number of representative of the percentage available in the work force of Contra Costa County for a given job classification."
Contra Costa would not have to make hiring decisions solely based on race or gender, however, nor did it have to create unnecessary positions to hire more females and minorities.
Instead, the decree called for the correction of any imbalances through changes to the county's hiring, recruitment and separation practices. The county was to look at the minimum qualifications for certain job classifications and determine whether certain factors that were not job related led to the disproportionate rejection of females and minorities.
The county, through an affirmative action officer, also had to work at ensuring that women and minorities applied for county employment.
After nearly 38 years of enforcement of the consent decree, the county asked the Northern District of California this past July to vacate it, arguing that the purpose of the decree had been fulfilled as the county's workforce is substantially more diverse today than it was in 1975.
Between 1975 and 2012, the percentage of women in the workforce jumped from 57 percent to 66 percent, and the number of minorities from 14 percent to 51 percent. The percentage of women employed by the fire districts increased from 3 percent to 15 percent, and the number of minorities increased from 3.4 percent to 28 percent.
Contra Costa also submitted evidence that the county's total labor force is 47 percent women, 51 percent Caucasian, 9 percent black, 22 percent Hispanic and 16 percent Asian.
"Defendants further contend that women and minorities are not only employed in low level jobs with few opportunities for advancement, but rather are employed in all occupational categories," the ruling states. "They note that three of the five members of the board of supervisors are female, and another member is an African American male."
Opponents argued that the county used overbroad data and failed to consider whether women and minorities were concentrated in the low-paying job classifications with fewer opportunities for advancement. They claim that 86 percent of the county's job classifications are not in balance.
U.S. District Judge Joseph Spero determined Wednesday that the consent decree did not require the county to attain the 80 percent numerical balance for each job classification and for each minority group and gender.
"Rather, the 80 percent 'balance' measurement is a tool for achieving a county workforce that 'reflects the available qualified population," he wrote.
The 86 percent figure cited in objections is faulty in that it ignores the minority groups whose numbers are in balance within each job category, and instead looks only at if there are any minority groups whose representation in the job is not in balance.
"While the county's diversity statistics may not be sufficient to show that it employs minorities and women at or above the 80 percent rate in all categories under the consent decree, they are certainly relevant to show that women and minorities are employed at substantially higher rates than they were in 1975," Spero wrote.
The court also found that, in addition to having made great strides in diversity, the county also developed and implemented policies and laws that promote diversity and prevent discrimination in a broader range than encompassed by the decree.
Contra Costa passed a Merit System Ordinance broadly prohibiting discrimination in county employment, hired an affirmative action officer, developed an affirmative action plan and established a hiring outreach oversight committee that reviews the statistical data of female and minority hiring and then makes recommendations regarding recruitment.
"Under all of these circumstances, the court finds that the county has substantially complied with the consent decree, and that the ongoing day to day supervision of county activities under the consent decree is no longer necessary," Spero wrote. "The task of preventing and remedying discrimination is not yet finished. It may never be. Today, however, 38 years after the court imposed the consent decree, the county has taken substantial steps on the path to equal employment opportunity."