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A national rent-to-own company has agreed to pay $2 million and stop administering a psychological test to job applicants as a condition of settling a class action by nearly 1,000 employees and job candidates who said the test invaded their privacy. Under terms of the settlement approved by U.S. Northern District of California Judge Maxine Chesney, Plano, Texas-based Rent-A-Center must stop giving the tests in California and must destroy all records here of the test. In addition, the company agreed to stop using the test at its 2,500 stores nationwide. The company also agreed to pay $2,000 to each California employee who took the test and failed and $1,250 to those who passed the test. The total payments will reach about $2 million. “The company views the settlement as a fair and reasonable resolution of the allegations,” said Rent-A-Center’s attorney, Wayne Bost of Winstead Sechrest & Minick’s Austin, Texas, office. “The company values its relationships with its employees and these settlement payments are designed to resolve the unsubtleties of the litigation. There is really nothing remarkable about this settlement.” The case, Staples v. Rent-A-Center, 99-2987, represents one of a small number of suits brought against companies using the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory Test in the past decade. The first serious challenge to the psychological tests in California was brought in Soroka v. Dayton Hudson Corp. In Soroka, the First District Court of Appeal in California held that the MMPI constitutes an invasion of privacy of employees. The California Supreme Court later took up the case, but it settled before the court was able to issue a ruling. “This is the only settlement challenging the MMPI since Soroka,” said Brad Seligman, who argued Soroka and now heads the Impact Fund, a Berkeley, Cal., nonprofit that advises and counsels people in class action and public interest cases. “After Soroka, employers got more cautious.” The MMPI, which dates from the 1950s, is the most commonly used psychological test in the nation. An estimated 10 million people are given these tests each year, Seligman said, and the popularity of the test is on the rise among employers. Although there are nine parts to the test, at issue in the case and settlement was one part, which required employees and applicants to answer “true” or “false” to 502 statements about their religious and sexual practices. Statements ranged from: “My sex life is satisfactory” to “I am strongly attracted to members of my own sex” to “I believe there is a God.” “An employee has a reasonable expectation of privacy,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Jeffrey Ross, of Oakland’s Dickson, Ross & Honig. “We can’t [see] any reason an employer needs to know that.” Ross said that Rent-A-Center contracted with a testing company to create a profile of each employee based on their responses. The profile included the number of “deviations” from standard answers given by chief operating officers of various companies in the 1950s. The case was brought to Ross by two former Bay Area managers, Scott Hadley and Arthur Staples. “They were required to give [the test] to all their subordinates. They didn’t feel it was right and were uncomfortable being a party to it,” Ross said. Dale Brodsky, solo practitioner in Walnut Creek, Cal., assisted Ross in the case.

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