Harrisburg Capitol Building
()

A recent federal court ruling that the FBI engaged in gender discrimination in its physical fitness requirements should help the Pennsylvania State Police defend its standards against a July 31 complaint by the Department of Justice, legal experts said.

On July 31, the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ sued in federal court in Harrisburg, citing that well over 90 percent of men were able to complete the State Police fitness test in targeted years, whereas only some 70 percent of women passed. That disparity kept roughly 45 women from being hired as troopers, according to the DOJ’s complaint.

But on June 14, a federal judge in Virginia ruled that the FBI’s fitness standards, which unlike for the State Police are separate for men and women, discriminate against men. The plaintiff in the case, Jay A. Bauer, completed 29 of the 30 required pushups for men. The FBI standards require women to complete 14.

“It’s pretty clear in the 1991 amendments to the Civil Rights Act that you can’t have adjusted requirements based on gender,” said one legal expert who asked not to be identified given his involvement in the case against the State Police. “The State Police treat prospective female and male troopers the same.”

The DOJ is asking the court to stop the fitness test used by the State Police, and to provide back pay, hiring offers and retroactive seniority for women against whom the test discriminated, the department said in a statement.

“The Department of Justice is deeply committed to eliminating artificial barriers that keep qualified women out of public safety work,” said the acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, Jocelyn Samuels, in a statement.

State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan said in a statement that the State Police has gone to great lengths and expense to develop a physical-readiness test that measures the fitness level and physical abilities necessary to be a Pennsylvania state trooper.

“Even using the figures listed in the DOJ complaint, PSP was within 5 percent of DOJ’s target passage rate for females,” Noonan said.

Jay Smith, president of FitForce Inc., which develops fitness standards for police departments and security forces nationwide, said agencies are required to set the fitness standards in place at the minimum required to do the job safely and effectively.

Smith said the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut reinforced the mandate for the minimum necessary to perform the job in its recent decision in Easterling v. State of Connecticut Department of Correction.

The standards used by the State Police include: completing a 300-meter run in 77 seconds; completing 13 pushups without a time limit; a vertical jump of 14 inches; completing a one-and-a-half-mile run in 17 minutes, 48 seconds; and completing an agility run in 23.5 seconds.

In 2012, the DOJ sued the city of Corpus Christi, Texas, alleging similar sexual discrimination claims against its police force. The city agreed last May to pay $700,000 in back pay to female applicants and to replace its fitness test, the department said.