WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Justice Department announced today that United States District Judge Sean J. McLaughlin of the Western District of Pennsylvania found that the City of Erie, Pennsylvania, violated federal law by using a physical ability test that eliminated the vast majority of female applicants for police officer positions in the Erie Bureau of Police. The court’s December 13th ruling followed a four-day trial held in March 2005.
The United States’ lawsuit, which was filed in 2004, alleged that Erie’s use of the physical ability test violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it had an unlawful disparate impact against women and did not predict whether an applicant was able to perform the police officer job successfully. Title VII makes it illegal to discriminate in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
“Title VII and common sense allow public safety employers to use tests that validly measure an applicant’s ability to do the job. But it is unlawful to use tests that wrongly disqualify applicants who otherwise could perform the job’s important public safety mission,” said Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “We are pleased that the court recognized the inequities in Erie’s test that unfairly screens out qualified female applicants on the basis of their gender, and we will continue to vigorously prosecute such violations of the law.”
Prior to trial, the court had determined that female applicants for police officer positions in Erie failed the test at a rate significantly higher than male applicants. According to the findings issued yesterday by the court, about 87 percent of female applicants failed the test, while only 29 percent of their male counterparts failed it. The court also found that, after using the test between 1994 and 2004, only about 4 percent of Erie’s sworn police officers were women. In contrast, the court found that Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia reported that 20-27 percent of their officers were women.
Erie’s physical ability test consisted of an obstacle course run, followed by a series of push-ups and sit-ups, all of which applicants had to complete in 90 seconds. In the ruling issued yesterday, the court held that Erie failed to prove that the test was job related. The United States alleged, and the court ruled, that the addition of the push-ups and sit-ups components to the obstacle course run was not justified. The court also found that Erie failed to justify using a 90-second cutoff on the test.
The case now will move into a relief phase, in which the United States will seek a court order barring Erie from discriminating on the basis of gender in the future, and providing remedial relief—including job offers and monetary relief—to identified victims of its past use of the unlawful physical ability test.