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U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder stands during a news conference in Washington June 30, 2014.  REUTERS/Joshua Roberts    U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder stands during a news conference in Washington June 30, 2014. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts   

Obama Administration Suing Pa. State Police Over Physical Fitness Tests

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Chuck Ross
Reporter

Saying that the physical fitness tests that the Pennsylvania state police uses to identify entry-level candidates are not job-related, the Department of Justice is suing the agency for sex discrimination since more men pass the tests than women.

“Through the use of these physical fitness tests, Defendants have engaged in a pattern or practice of employment discrimination against women in [Pennsylvania State Police's] selection process for entry-level trooper positions in violation of Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964],” reads the DOJ’s lawsuit.

At issue are the state agency’s 2003 and 2009 physical fitness tests that are one of eight criteria used to choose entry-level state troopers.

The 2003 test had five events — a 300-meter run, sit-ups, push-ups, a vertical jump, and a one-and-a-half mile run. To become an entry-level cadet, applicants had to pass each event.

Between 2003 and 2008, 94 percent of male test-takers and 71 percent of female test-takers passed all five events.

After a new test was implemented in 2009, pass rates rose for both groups. Ninety-eight percent of male test-takers and 72 percent of female test-takers passed the exam.

The DOJ claims that these results indicate discrimination.

In cases of discrimination, or disparate impact cases, “the 80 percent rule” is used as a benchmark to determine whether discrimination exists. The Pennsylvania state police’s results fail to pass this threshold, the DOJ argues.

In its lawsuit, the federal agency claims that if female applicants had passed the physical tests at the same rate as male applicants, “119 additional women would have been available for further consideration for the position of entry-level trooper.”

That would have translated into an additional 45 women hired as entry-level troopers, according to the DOJ.

Though police work often requires physical strength and stamina, the DOJ argues that the agency over-emphasizes the test’s usefulness on the job.

“Defendants’ use of both the 2003 and the 2009 PFT is not job-related for the entry-level trooper position, [and] is not consistent with business necessity,” the complaint reads.

The state police are also accused of “failing or refusing to provide make-whole relief, including backpay with interest, offers of employment, retroactive seniority, and other benefits to women who have suffered losses or will suffer losses as a result of the discriminatory policies and practices.”

“The Department of Justice is deeply committed to eliminating artificial barriers that keep qualified women out of public safety work,” said Jocelyn Samuels, acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, in a statement. “The Justice Department will continue to challenge discriminatory hiring practices that unnecessarily exclude qualified applicants on account of sex.”

The federal agency issued a similar complaint against the Corpus Christi police department in 2011. The case was settled in 2013 after the city agreed to scrap the physical test and to pay $700,000 to female applicants who failed the test between 2005 and 2011. Female cadets who qualified on other measures were also given priority in hiring and retroactive seniority and benefits.

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