This past Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the Pennsylvania State Police for violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The lawsuit alleged that the state’s police force had been engaging in an unlawful hiring pattern which resulted in employment discrimination against women.
Between 2003 and 2008, Pennsylvania used a physical fitness test to determine part of applicant qualification for entry-level trooper positions. About 94% of men passed the test, and 71% of women. The test changed in 2009, adding new components — men passed the new test 98% of the time, and women passed 72% of the time. The lawsuit says that these numbers are statistically significant.
Key to the case is that the physical fitness test used to determine hiring eligibility required skills that were not necessary for performing their future job. Hence, using the physical test as part of the hiring process resulted in a disproportionate number of female applicants being barred from employment.
“The Department of Justice is deeply committed to eliminating artificial barriers that keep qualified women out of public safety work,” said the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, Jocelyn Samuels.
Had women passed at the same rate as men, then 119 more women would have been eligible for hiring, and approximately 45 more female state troopers would now be on roster, according to the Justice Department. The lawsuit asks Pennsylvania to developing Title XII compliant hiring practices, as well as an establishment of “make-whole” relief — this includes retroactive seniority, backpay, and hiring women.
Pennsylvania’s head of state police, commissioner Frank Noonan, disagrees with the lawsuit. Currently, about 5% of the force’s 4,700 members are women — but according Noonan, hiring women is a priority. “This is not an impossible task,” he says of the fitness test, adding that recruits in poor physical condition slow everyone down.
“The Justice Department will continue to challenge discriminatory hiring practices that unnecessarily exclude qualified applicants on account of sex,” says Samuels.