Miss. may skip EEOC meeting because of trooper claims

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 12, 2009

JACKSON (AP) — The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will meet with the Mississippi Department of Public Safety to discuss its findings that the agency discriminates against its black troopers, an official said.

But Public Safety Commissioner Steve Simpson hasn’t decided whether he’ll attend the meeting later this month, his spokesman Jon Kalahar said Thursday.

Simpson’s agency has asked federal officials for more time to consider EEOC recommendations to resolve a complaint filed by the Mississippi NAACP on behalf of the state’s 208 black Highway Patrol troopers.

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Troopers involved in the complaint have not spoken publicly about the matter.

The EEOC had given state officials until Monday to agree to a conciliation process, which could involve paying troopers $1.5 million in back wages and revamping the state’s promotion system, among other recommendations.

Instead of receiving an extension, the EEOC letter that arrived Thursday said the commission had scheduled a meeting.

‘‘They termed the meeting as ‘conciliation’ and we still want to know the specifics,’’ Kalahar said. ‘‘We’re trying to figure out the next step we want to take.’’

Following a monthslong investigation, the EEOC concluded the Department of Public Safety ‘‘discriminated against blacks as a class because of their race with respect to assignment, demotions, discharges, discipline, harassment, hiring, intimidation, hostile work environment, promotions and the overall terms and conditions of their employment.’’

Kalahar said his agency hasn’t seen the documentation submitted to the EEOC on behalf of the troopers.

‘‘Who’s doing the discriminating? What were the acts of the discriminating?’’ Kalahar said.

Simpson has said it’s unlikely the state would pay back wages. He also has said he’s working a plan to change the agency’s promotion process from its current merit-based procedure.

The new process would be based on Alabama’s system, which brings in troopers from other states to conduct interviews and narrow the candidates down to two. Highway Patrol officials in Mississippi would make the final choice.

Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, wants state officials to participate in the meeting.

‘‘It’s only an invitation for us to sit down and talk and negotiate. At that time, if there’s any outstanding information, DPS can request that information,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘I don’t think EEOC is trying to get us to do anything that’s not in the best interest of the state.’’

Johnson took issue with Simpson’s plan to revamp the system, saying the first he heard of it was after the EEOC report was released.

‘‘The DPS just last week, under the old system, advertised, interviewed, tested and promoted officers. For him to say now that he was going to do something in the future is questionable at best,’’ Johnson said.

Kalahar said there were promotions last week, but he didn’t know how many. He also said he didn’t know when a new system might be implemented.