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Job applicants at Rent-a-Center, Inc. stores nationwide were required to submit to an intrusive psychological test that is widely considered outmoded because it discriminates on the basis of race, sex, religion, ethnicity and disability, alleges a class action filed in federal court this week. Attorneys Alan L. Frank, Lance S. Rosen and Marc H. Snyder, of Philadelphia, Pa.’s Frank & Rosen, filed the complaint on behalf of a proposed class of job applicants who were allegedly denied employment because of their responses to the original Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Index. The MMPI, the complaint says, was developed in the 1930s and early 1940s “for use by mental health professionals to diagnose and treat individuals with abnormal psychological symptoms and personality traits.” But the sample used in the development of the test, the complaint alleges, was an exclusively white population from rural Minnesota “selected for their notable lack of physical or mental health problems.” Anyone who was receiving medical care from a physician or hospital was excluded, the complaint says. Because the original test sample was unrepresentative, the complaint says, the results of the test are unreliable. Snyder said in an interview that his research turned up several sources saying that the original MMPI was “inherently discriminatory” on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, religion, age and disability. Because of these problems, Snyder said, the MMPI was significantly revised in the 1980s. The revised version, known as MMPI-2, used a much more inclusive sample population and “has eliminated many, if not all, of the offensive, intrusive and invasive questions contained in the original MMPI,” the complaint says. But Plano, Texas-based Rent-a-Center, which operates a chain of “rent to own” stores selling appliances and durable goods, was using the old version, the complaint says, when the proposed class representative, Ann Lit, applied for a job there in December 1999. According to the complaint, Lit was told by Jack Boyce, the manager of RAC’s Philadelphia branch offices, that she was highly qualified for a job at RAC, but she’d have to take several tests — including one with some “very weird” questions. She was required to answer 502 “true-false” questions, leaving no more than 30 questions blank, Boyce allegedly said. When Lit sat down with the “weird” test, which she later learned was the original MMPI, she says, she was confronted with many questions she found “highly inappropriate and offensive” and “sexually, racially and religiously offensive and discriminatory.” Lit left 90 of the “most offensive” questions blank, she said. The complaint says that there were many other questions that Lit did answer “even though she believed that they were “patently irrelevant to her qualification as well as being deeply offensive, intrusive and evasive.” Some examples of the questions Lit found offensive: � “I believe there is a God.” � “Religion gives me no worry.” � “I have had no difficulty in starting or holding my bowel movement.” � “I have never had a fit or convulsion.” � “I wish I was not bothered by thoughts about sex.” � “I believe women ought to have as much sexual freedom as men.” Later, Boyce allegedly told Lit that she had performed very well on all the other tests required of applicants and would have been a shoo-in for a job if she would retake the MMPI. Boyce told her that “the sole reason [Lit] was not offered an employment position with Rent-a-Center was that she did not achieve a satisfactory score on the Original MMPI examination,” the complaint says. According to the suit, the MMPI is “designed to be administered individually by a trained psychologist in a controlled setting,” Rent-a-Center had untrained employees administer the exam, often in groups. Rent-a-Center had no policies or procedures to ensure that applicants’ answers to the questions were kept confidential, the suit says. The complaint alleges that Rent-a Center violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by requiring prospective employees “to answer intrusive and offensive questions concerning protected class status; specifically regarding private matters that have absolutely no relationship or nexus to job performance or qualifications.” The “Original MMPI used by … [Rent-a-Center] has an adverse effect on class members, by disproportionately screening out qualified applicants by virtue of their race, religious beliefs, and sex,” the complaint alleges. Furthermore, the suit says, Rent-a-Center should have known that the original MMPI was “very outdated,” was rarely used in a hiring context and had been supplanted by the MMPI-2 during the 1980s. The complaint also alleges that the test violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. “It is illegal for an employer to ask, pre-employment, any questions about a disability unless there’s a direct connection between the disability and the job,” Snyder said yesterday. The MMPI allegedly contained numerous questions regarding the applicants’ health. Snyder said that RAC stopped using the test in July as a term of the settlement of a class action in state court in California. Snyder said he couldn’t understand why RAC would have continued to use the MMPI after it had been supplanted by the revised version of the test. “I can’t wait to hear their rationale for using it,” he said. Lawyers for Rent-a-Center could not be reached for comment.

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