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Members of protected group flunk job test? Make sure bosses aren’t manipulating system

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Hiring,HR Management

If your pool of qualified applicants is demographically significantly different than your hires, there may be trouble afoot. Don’t count on pre-­employment job tests to automatically create fair hiring.

When applicants have to meet minimum requirements to be considered for hiring, chances are that any subsequent tests (or pre-employment training) won’t tip off any kind of bias against members of a particular racial, sexual or other protected class.

But if a quick internal audit shows that particular departments or managers have considered but not hired members of a protected class, you may want to look at whether the testing is being handled properly. You may have a rogue manager who doesn’t want to hire qualified individuals who belong to a particular protected class.

So while HR is recruiting qualified individuals, the manager may be sabotaging those efforts by making it hard or even impossible to make the jump from a job interview to being hired.

Recent case: Latana Williams, a black woman, applied for a position as a police officer. She had been honorably discharged from the Army and worked in corrections before. Williams was offered a position contingent on completing police academy training administered by the employer.

Until Williams was provisionally hired, the police department had hired no other black women, but had hired seven black men.

The police academy training consisted of classroom instruction, physical fitness challenges, firearms testing, defensive driving, first-aid training and other topics. Cadets had to pass all parts of the curriculum. Those who did not would be terminated.

Williams claimed that her academy instructor told her he would do everything he could to get rid of her and that no one would back her up on the job if she did manage to pass. Then he provided her with the wrong-size gun for her firearms test and, during her defensive driving test, assigned her a clunker that stalled. Others got the right weapons and ­better cars when tested.

Although she technically passed the firearms test, her instructor said she took too many tries. He also failed her on the driving test. He recommended her termination.

Meanwhile, Williams was hired by another town’s police department, where she passed its training academy with no problems. She then sued, alleging race and sex discrimination.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals said Williams had enough evidence to continue her lawsuit. She had shown that she was placed at a disadvantage during testing and could use that as evidence that her instructor wanted her to fail because of her gender and race. (Williams v. Tupelo, No. 10-60679, 5th Cir., 2011)

Final note: Remember, you can’t just rely on an instructor’s recommendations anymore. If he or she is a closet bigot, you are responsible for any misguided motives. Follow up on recommendations. That may mean comparing scores across protected classes or fully investigating any allegations of prejudice or manipulation.

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