Pennsylvania State Police Will Pay Up After Fitness Test Drew Bias Suit

Settling a complaint by the Obama-era Department of Justice, the commonwealth faces a $2.2 million bill to be distributed among women who applied to be troopers as far back as 2003.

(Image by Ryan McGuire from Pixabay via Courthouse News)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Jump 14 inches off the ground and do 13 push-ups. These tests and three more gave male applicants little trouble in entering the Pennsylvania State Police Academy, but kept a significant amount of women on the sidelines.

Hit with federal discrimination charges in 2014, Pennsylvania and its State Police force agreed Tuesday to adopt new fitness standards and to create a $2.2 million fund for women whose police careers were either derailed or delayed by the old ones. 

The Pennsylvania State Police, like most police departments, put applicants through a multi-step process—including a background check, drug screening and psychological evaluation — before they can be considered for positions as state troopers.  

In 2003, they came up with a five-part test involving a set amount of sit-ups and push-ups, a 300-meter run, a 1.5 mile run and a vertical jump. 

“Through the use of these physical fitness tests,” the Justice Department charged, “Defendants have engaged in a pattern or practice of employment discrimination against women in PSP’s selection process for entry level trooper positions in violation of Title VII.” 

The department alleged that the fitness tests evaluated skills state troopers didn’t need to perform, preventing 45 qualified women from being hired. 

While the police department did change the physical fitness test in 2009 — replacing the sit-up portion with an agility test, among some other modifications — the disparity persisted: Between 2009 and 2012, 98% of the male applicants passed the test while only 72% of the female applicants did.  

“If, between 2003 and 2012, female applicants had passed the 2003 PFT and the 2009 PFT at the same rate as male applicants,” the complaint said, “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.” 

As part of Monday’s settlement, which was filed with a federal court in Harrisburg, the state must replace its 2009 test with one normed for age and gender that was first designed for use by the U.S. military in 1968. The Cooper test gets its name from the so-called “father of aerobics,” Dr. Kenneth Cooper.

Across the country, police departments are struggling with gender disparity. Women account for only 18.5% of police forces in New York, 23.2% in Chicago and 22.6% in Washington, D.C., according to data compiled by CNN. Other countries have have more diversity in their police ranks: women represent more than a third of police in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. 

The Pennsylvania State Police has come under fire for sexual discrimination and harassment for years. In 2017, the state settled over a dozen sexual harassment and misconduct lawsuits against the troopers for nearly $8 million. Female state police employees — among them, a clerk, a sergeant, several troopers and a vice corporal — alleged instances of physical assault and battery to sexual discrimination and retaliation.

This came over a decade after, the Supreme Court heard arguments about a Pennsylvania police dispatcher, Nancy Drew Suders, who said sexual harassment forced her to quit. The Supreme Court ruled that workers who “felt compelled to resign” could sue their employers even if they did not report the harassment they experienced to the same employer.  

Representatives for the force did not immediately return requests for comment. The Justice Department has declined to comment. 

“Employers cannot impose selection criteria that unfairly screen out qualified female applicants,” Pamela Karlan, principal deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement Tuesday.

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