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Justice Department Sues PA State Police Over Fitness Tests

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Jim Melwert Jim Melwert
Jim is a "morning drive" reporter for KYW Newsradio 1060, bringing...
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By Jim Melwert and Jan Carabeo

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Justice Department is suing the Pennsylvania State Police, saying its physical fitness tests discriminate against women.

The test includes a 300 meter run, sit-ups, push-ups a vertical jump and a 1.5 mile run. The suit says the test disproportionately screens out women based on skills, that it claims, are not necessary to perform the job.

That, the suit says, is a violation of title 7 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

While only 2-to-4 percent of male applicants failed the fitness tests, nearly a quarter of all female applicants were screened out.

The Justice Department is seeking a court order to require state police to stop using the challenged physical fitness tests, to develop hiring procedures that comply with Title 7, and to hire any women who were affected by this.

The Justice Department also wants any affected women to be offered back pay and seniority that may have been lost due to these physical fitness tests.

Physical trainers like Perry O’Hearn of Philly Phitness say these types of tests are naturally easier for men.

“It’s just a little bit easier for men to build that overall muscle with testosterone,” O’Hearn said. “But it’s not something you can’t do in women.”

Nancy Ezold is an employment discrimination attorney in Bala Cynwyd.

“It’s time that cases like this were brought,” Ezold said. “To keep them out based on an arbitrary physical fitness exam is doing a disservice to women in Pennsylvania.”

Not only does the suit allege that the test has a disparate impact on women, but it claims it tests for physical skills not required to perform the job.

“You have to be able to see to fly a plane, do you need to be able to pass all aspects of this physical fitness test to be a state police officer?” Ezold questioned.

Today, state police commissioner Frank Noonan said that lowering the fitness standards would be an “insult” to those men and women have already met the requirements.  And, he says, it would endanger the public.

“We will not be bullied into changing or lowering our standards by the Department of Justice or anyone else,” he said.  “They seem to think that every day you’re not using these particular skills when you would need strength or fitness.  But you never know.”

Noonan says, for example, a trooper may be out on patrol alone and have to pull someone out of a burning vehicle.  He says every applicant must be physically prepared to perform the duties of a trooper.

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