By Marc Levy
HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Pennsylvania State Police, one of the nation's largest forces, is faced with ending the physical fitness tests it gives to applicants for state trooper positions or defending in court a practice that the federal government says illegally discriminates against women.
The Justice Department's 10-page lawsuit was filed Tuesday in federal court in Harrisburg. A spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania State Police said Tuesday evening that the agency's lawyers had not seen the lawsuit yet and could not comment on it.
With 4,677 sworn members, Pennsylvania State Police troopers provide protection for much of Pennsylvania.
The lawsuit said the use of the tests to screen and select the applicants for the entry-level positions amounted to a pattern of employment discrimination. Much greater percentages of male applicants than female applicants passed the physical fitness tests going back to 2003, it said.
As a result, the state police had failed to hire dozens of women for entry-level trooper positions on an equal basis with men, it said.
Had female applicants passed the test at the same rate as men between 2003 and 2012, approximately 119 additional women would have merited further consideration for the jobs and approximately 45 more would have been hired as entry-level troopers, the Justice Department said.
The practice violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and does not qualify under the law as a business necessity, it said.
"The Department of Justice is deeply committed to eliminating artificial barriers that keep qualified women out of public safety work," Jocelyn Samuels, acting assistant attorney general for the department's civil rights division, said in a statement.
A test begun in 2003 consisted of a 300-meter run, sit-ups, push-ups, a vertical jump and a 1.5-mile run, the lawsuit said. The test carried cut-off scores for each of the five events, and the state police required that applicants pass each event, it said.
From 2003 to 2008, 94 percent of male applicants passed the fitness test, while 71 percent of female applicants passed. Under a similar test administered in 2009 through 2012, 98 percent of male applicants passed, while 72 percent of female applicants passed, the lawsuit said.
The Justice Department sued the city of Corpus Christi, Texas, in 2012, stating similar allegations. The city settled the lawsuit last year, approving a $700,000 settlement for female police applicants who had failed the test. Corpus Christi police also agreed to stop using the test and hire 18 women who did not pass the test, but were considered eligible to be officers.
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Copyright 2014 The Associated Press