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Recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the importance of diversity and the ways that it can be achieved with affirmative action programs have moved applicant testing back to the center of the human resources radar screen. But this renewed interest in testing creates a dilemma for many employers. On the one hand, they want to achieve a diverse workforce. On the other, they are concerned that the use of tests may invite legal challenges since minority applicants often fail such tests at higher rates. Many employers are simply confused about what types of tests can be defended if challenged.

The number of employee discrimination lawsuits tripled during the 1990s, and shows no sign of abating. Many of these suits involved claims of age and gender harassment, but many also alleged that testing techniques used for hiring and promotion purposes discriminated unfairly against minorities.

Despite this, the use of testing is growing. According to recent research done by James Sharf and David Jones of Aon Consulting, about 50 percent of companies use standardized employment tests, and roughly 70 percent engage in some sort of ability testing. It’s understandable: In today’s leaner and more complex workplace, the skills and performance of employees are critical to the bottom line. That makes testing an important tool.

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