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Worcester decides not to fight federal voting rights lawsuit

April 14, 2021 GMT

WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) — The Worcester City Council decided not to fight a lawsuit brought by city residents of color who alleged that the at-large system for electing school committee members is discriminatory and violates federal law.

Mayor Joseph Petty said following the 8-2 vote Tuesday, the city will instead seek approval from the state Legislature to change the school committee’s electoral process, The Telegram & Gazette reported.

A coalition including the Worcester branch of the NAACP sued the city in federal court in February, alleging the use of an at-large system for all seats on the Worcester School Committee dilutes the voting power of minority voters and violates the federal Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.

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Despite the fact that more than half of students in Worcester identify as either Hispanic, Latino/Latina or Black, the city’s six-member school committee is all white, and historically has been predominantly white, the suit said.

The city was not conceding a violation of the Voting Rights Act, but felt that it was in the city’s best interest to resolve the matter, Petty said.

An attorney for the residents who brought the suit said her clients welcomed the council’s decision.

“On behalf of the plaintiffs, we are very pleased that the City Council has committed to changing the electoral system for school committee to a system that will provide individuals of color in Worcester an equal voice,” Rebecca Lecaroz said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the city to formalize the agreement in a consent decree that will lead to a new system which will ensure fair representation.”