DOJ Says Pa. State Police Discriminated Against Women Who Flunked Physical Fitness Tests

Susan Jones | July 30, 2014 | 5:42am EDT
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Pennsylvania State Police (AP File Photo)

( - The Obama administration is suing the Pennsylvania State Police for requiring both men and women applying for entry-level trooper jobs to pass the same physical fitness tests.

Because more men than women pass the tests, their use is discriminatory and violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Justice Department says.

Because female applicants failed the 2003 physical fitness test and the revised 2009 test at "statistically higher rates than male applicants, female applicants were less likely to proceed through the selection process and thus less likely to be hired as entry-level troopers," DOJ stated in its lawsuit.

The Justice Department notes that from 2003 through 2008, the Pennsylvania State Police used a physical fitness test consisting of five events: a 300-meter run; sit-ups; push-ups; a vertical jump; and a 1.5-mile run. Applicants were required to pass each event to continue in the selection process for entry-level troopers.

From 2003-2008, approximately 94 percent of male applicants passed the test, while only 71 percent of female applicants passed.

In 2009, the state police added new elements to the physical fitness test, and between 2009 and 2012, approximately 98 percent of male applicants passed the revised test, while approximately 72 percent of female applicants passed.

In both time periods, the female pass rate was less than 80 percent of the male pass rate, which DOJ considers "statistically significant."

Justice Department employees figure it this way: "If, between 2003 and 2012, female applicants had passed the 2003 PFT (physical fitness test) and 2009 PFT at the same rate as male applicants, approximately 119 additional women would have been available for further consideration for the position of entry-level trooper, resulting in approximately 45 additional women being hired as entry-level troopers."

DOJ concluded that the 2003 and the 2009 tests were "not job-related" and "not consistent with business necessity..."

The lawsuit stated, "There are alternatives...for screening and selecting applicants for entry-level trooper positions, that have less disparate impact on women and would serve (Pennsylvania State Police's) legitimate interests."

But the Pennsylvania State Police website makes it clear that the job of a State Trooper can be physically demanding.

"Essential job functions" of Pennsylvania State Troopers include:

-- Arresting people, "forcibly if necessary";

-- Subduing resisting suspects;

-- Pursuing fleeing suspects and performing rescue operations "which may involve quickly entering and exiting law enforcement vehicles; lifting, carrying and dragging heavy objects; climbing over and pulling up oneself over obstacles; jumping down from elevated surfaces; climbing through openings; jumping over obstacles, ditches and streams; crawling in confined areas; balancing on uneven or narrow surfaces and using body force to gain entrance through barriers."

-- Performing rescue functions at accidents, emergencies and disasters, which includes "directing traffic for long periods of time, administering emergency medical aid, lifting, dragging and carrying people away from dangerous situations and securing and evacuating people from particular areas."

The Pennsylvania State Police website notes that successful applicants "must be able to perform ALL of the above essential job functions with or without reasonable accommodation upon completion of the training program."


The Justice Department lawsuit faults the Pennsylvania State Police for refusing to take "appropriate action" to correct its discriminatory practices; and refusing to "make whole" (compensate) female applicants who were harmed by the "unlawful use" of the physical fitness tests.

The compensation would include back pay 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" alleged in the complaint.

“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 announcing the lawsuit.   “The Justice Department will continue to challenge discriminatory hiring practices that unnecessarily exclude qualified applicants on account of sex.”

The lawsuit seeks a court order that would require the Pennsylvania State Police to stop using the challenged physical fitness tests; develop hiring procedures that comply with Title VII; and compensate individual women who have been harmed as a result of the defendants’ use of the challenged physical fitness tests.

This is not the first time the Justice Department has sued a police agency.

Several years ago, the Justice Department took legal action against the Corpus Christi, Texas police department on similar grounds.

That case, finally settled in May 2013, required Corpus Christi police to replace the physical fitness tests it had been using for applicants; and distribute $700,000 in back pay to eligible female applicants who took and failed the challenged physical abilities test between 2005 and 2011.

Title VII prohibits both intentional discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin and religion as well as employment practices that result in a disparate impact upon a protected group, unless the practices are job-related and consistent with business necessity.

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