(CN) – A federal judge approved a deal affording priority hiring with retroactive seniority to female prison guard applicants in Massachusetts who were held to the same physical standards as men.
The Massachusetts Department of Corrections began selecting entry-level correctional officers through the Caritas Physical Abilities Test in 2007.
Applicants must pass 11 events to become a correctional officer, and the test requires the same physical performances from both men and women.
In 2007, 97.2 percent of men passed, while only 55.1 percent of women passed. In 2008, 96 percent of men passed, while 65.2 percent of women passed. In 2009, 99 percent of men passed and 84.2 percent of women passed.
That year, the United States sued Massachusetts and its Department of Corrections, alleging that the test had an unintentional disparate impact on women in violation of employment-discrimination protections in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
The parties eventually reached a settlement in which Massachusetts would pay $736,000 to the female applicants who previously failed the test.
Five women who initially failed the test but passed later on will receive retroactive seniority, while 30 candidates who failed will receive priority hiring with retroactive seniority.
The Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union objected, however, claiming that the plan would inappropriately burden incumbent correction officers, and give unearned benefits to female applicants.
U.S. District Judge William Young nevertheless approved the settlement last week. “There is ‘no argument that the award of retroactive seniority to the victims of hiring discrimination in any way deprives other employees of indefeasibly vested rights conferred by the employment contract,'” he wrote. “Competitive status seniority is appropriate relief for resolution of Title VII employment discrimination cases even though it may have an impact on incumbent employees.”
“Retroactive seniority may indeed conflict with the interests of other employees,” he added. “Nonetheless, retroactive seniority ‘may not be denied merely because the interest of other employees may thereby be affected.'”
Current employees will not face a significant impact from the deal since the number of women who will qualify for retroactive seniority “constitute less than one percent of the current correction officer work force.”