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Justice Dept. Rights Chief Is Critical of Black Leaders

January 23, 1985|RONALD J. OSTROW | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — In unusually blunt terms, the Justice Department's chief civil rights enforcer accused national black leaders Tuesday of making "calculated misstatements" and engaging in a "campaign of disinformation" in criticizing the Reagan Administration's efforts to protect minorities.

Moreover, Assistant Atty. Gen. William Bradford Reynolds declared in an interview, leaders of the civil rights movement in private have been "very positive, laudable even," about the Administration's accomplishments. But the leaders--whom he did not identify--have immediately turned critical "in the glaring lights of the press," he charged.

By accusing the black leaders of saying one thing publicly but another privately, Reynolds sharpened the words of President Reagan, who charged last week that the leaders "are protecting some rather good positions that they have" by not informing their rank-and-file members of the Administration's civil rights initiatives. His comments were made in response to a question about Reagan's criticism.

In addition, Reynolds denounced the highly controversial issue of "comparable worth" in employment--men and women receiving equal pay for performing different jobs of similar difficulty and skill levels--as flawed on legal, economic and policy grounds. In addition, he predicted that it will be an active area of civil rights litigation over the next two years.

And he disclosed that changes would be proposed in at least 46 of 72 court-ordered employment discrimination settlements to which the federal government is a party, with an eye toward eliminating all provisions of a "race-conscious nature." Reynolds ordered a review of the settlements last June after the Supreme Court barred layoffs of whites with more seniority than blacks.

Many black leaders rose to their positions "arguing strenuously for the remedies of racial quotas and mandatory busing" to help solve blacks' employment and education problems, Reynolds said. But "it's very difficult, having ridden on that tide, to turn around and join the forces of those who are now showing--in many respects with hard evidence--that that particular set of remedies has been ineffective and, indeed, counterproductive," he noted.

'Drown Out the Truth' Reynolds said it is "understandable" that black leaders who have championed such techniques cannot acknowledge their failure, but he added that they "raise their voices in opposition even louder to drown out the truth of the failure."

Benjamin L. Hooks, executive director of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, said he did not know which leaders Reynolds had in mind "since he's not talking about me." Hooks, saying that he and Reynolds had had no private conversations, defended his public comments on civil rights as backed up by statistics--many of which, he said, come from federal agencies.

Jesse Jackson, who worked closely with Reynolds on voter registration in Mississippi and had private conversations with him, did not return a reporter's call. And John E. Jacob, president of the Urban League, was traveling Tuesday and could not be reached, an aide in New York said.

Comparable Worth Suits On the issue of comparable worth, Reynolds said that he expects the federal government to become involved at an early stage in some of the 11 such lawsuits now in federal district courts across the nation.

"I think the courts will probably have little difficulty rejecting the notion that comparable worth has any presence in Title VII (of the 1964 Civil Rights Act) or in the existing framework of federal civil rights laws," Reynolds said. Title VII formed the basis of federal prohibitions on discrimination in employment.

"We're very much for equal pay for equal work and adamant (that) there be no exclusion (of opportunity) for males or females," Reynolds continued. But, he said, the theory of comparable worth "moves to a new level of attack," implying that ". . . there is some inherent discrimination in the marketplace that requires somebody--courts or the bureaucracy--on a subjective basis to compare one job with another on some valuation scheme and then to repair any discrepancy by raising the lower-wage job."

'Far-Reaching Doctrine'

But "nowhere does it suggest that anyone is being excluded on the basis of sex or that there's a discriminatory wage scheme that either job is guilty of," he said. "I think it's a rather far-reaching doctrine that doesn't have much to sustain it."

In the equal employment cases, even more notifications of Justice Department-advocated changes than the 46 already sent out might be needed, Reynolds said.

"There will continue to be litigation on the extent to which racial preferences in the employment area are available outside the layoff context," in which the Supreme Court ruled last year, Reynolds said.

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