Is a hiring test gender discrimination?

by on December 12, 2008 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Gender Discrimination in Workplace Testing

HR manager Paul Podesta turned from his computer screen and picked up the phone.

“This is Jill Kramer,” the voice on the other end said. “I got your letter saying I’m not strong enough to do the job I applied for. What gives?”

“Ah, Ms. Kramer,” Paul said. “If you’ll wait a moment, I’ll call up your file.”

Paul’s fingers tap-danced across the computer keyboard. “There you are,” he said. “Yes, I’m afraid your results on our strength test weren’t adequate. This test is a good predictor of who is physically going to be able to do the job without injury.”

“I’ve had at least three jobs that required heavy lifting,” Jill said. “And I’ve never been injured.”

“I’m happy for you,” Paul said. “But we feel that the test replicates our work process pretty well, and if somebody can’t pass it, they probably can’t do the job over time.”

Women were rejected

“Well, it may interest you to know that I have two girlfriends who also applied and got rejected,” Jill said. “Plus, I know a woman who works for you already, and she says hardly any women have been hired since you put in the strength test three years ago. Smells fishy to me.”

Paul stiffened slightly. “If you’re implying that there’s gender discrimination in our selection procedure, I’d like to disabuse you of that notion right now,” he said. “We hire qualified individuals of either gender. But I emphasize – qualified. From your results, you were not qualified.”

“I’ll have a lawyer look into that,” Jill said.

She and some of the other unsuccessful female applicants sued for gender discrimination.

Did they win?

Yes, the rejected applicants won their gender discrimination cases. Some 52 women eventually joined as plaintiffs, and a federal court jury awarded them $3.3 million.

The court pointed out that only 40% of women who took the test passed, while 94% of men did. This amounted to “disparate impact” – an employment practice that’s not discriminatory in and of itself, but ends up having a discriminatory effect.

At trial, the rejected applicants were able to show that the test was much more difficult than the actual job that workers did in the company’s factory.

Also, an industrial expert testifying for the rejected applicants said that in two of the three years before the strength test was adopted, women workers actually had lower injury rates than men.

Tests must be on point

It’s fine to test for the characteristics that applicants will need to do the job once hired. You’d be remiss not to.

But it’s important that these tests be closely correlated with the actual capacities essential for the position. If they’re not, you could be accused of gender discrimination.


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