Serving as “the eyes and ears” of a federal judge, William Sauser recently helped change discriminatory hiring practices at the Personnel Board of Jefferson County and in the City of Birmingham.
Sauser, Professor of Management in Auburn University’s Raymond J. Harbert College of Business, served as special consultant to U.S. District Court Judge Lynwood Smith as the board and city were placed under court order after a 1982 consent decree to change what was considered to be racial and gender discrimination practices (Martin-Bryant vs. Jefferson County, City of Birmingham, and Personnel Board of Jefferson County, 1973).
“Anything that I didn’t like, the judge would demand that they correct,” said Sauser, who worked the case as a court monitor. “There was a lot to be straightened out.”
For instance, Sauser said there was “no evidence” that testing of prospective employees was job-related, making the tests invalid. Sauser also noted that females and minorities were “screened out at a great rate.”
However, both the Personnel Board of Jefferson County and City of Birmingham have been removed from consent decrees as the court has since ruled that both are now in compliance. Jefferson County remains in contempt.
For his work, Sauser will receive the External Consulting Award presented at the 2013 Auburn University Faculty Awards. He joins Harbert College of Business colleague Casey Cegielski, Associate Professor in Aviation and Supply Chain Management, and a recipient of the Gerald and Emily Leischuck Endowed Presidential Award of Excellence, among university honorees.
“University faculty are expected to be involved in the community,” said Sauser, who has been at Auburn since 1977 and is past chair of the Auburn University Senate. “I consider myself to be an applied scientist. I enjoy helping businesses and government solve problems.
“I get a lot of current knowledge (from consulting) about what’s going on in the business community. There are lots of examples that I can bring back into the classroom. Consultation is also a great opportunity for data collection. Early in my career, that’s where most of my research came from.”
Sauser’s consulting work isn’t limited to Jefferson County. He serves as an instructor for five Auburn University Human Resource and Development training courses, conducts ethics workshops for the City of Auburn, and also works with the Auburn University Center for Governmental Services.
“If a city has an issue and needs some research, I get involved in that,” he said.
It wasn’t until five years ago that Sauser become involved in the job-discrimination lawsuit in Birmingham, filed in the Federal District Court of North Alabama.
“It was a whole gamut of jobs and promotions that people were systematically denied,” Sauser said.
Sauser said the lawsuits were consolidated and assigned for the late U.S. District Court Judge Sam C. Pointer. The defendants signed consent decrees, assuming guilt, and were placed under federal court supervision to make changes.
“They said they would fix things, but things didn’t get any better.
“When Judge Pointer retired, Judge Lynwood Smith handled the case. The circuit court told him to ‘get it straight right away and get them to obey the consent decree.’ But more years passed and nothing happened.
“My job was to go to meetings, review documents and report to the judge monthly on what’s going on there. I informed the judge what they were doing on a day-to-day basis. By that time, they were getting serious about getting into compliance. After about four years, they demonstrated they were able to perform within the law without court supervision.
“Personnel board of Jefferson County is now a model of civil service that other states follow. They want to see how they do it. All vestiges of racism and gender discrimination have been eliminated.”
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