Between 2005 and 2011, the Corpus Christi Police Department hired 113 male entry-level police officers—and just 12 women. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) thinks it knows the reason for the disparity: a physical ability test that most men can pass but few women can.
Now the Justice Department is suing the city of Corpus Christi, alleging that the police department’s hiring practices discriminate against women in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
According to the lawsuit, two-thirds of male applicants were able to pass the test, but only one in five women could. In 2009, the department adjusted the passing score to allow more applicants to pass the test, but the gender gap remained.
The city has been cooperating with the DOJ on the issue for months and does not disagree with the lawsuit’s major allegations. City officials say they plan to work with the Justice Department to implement changes that will make a trial unnecessary.
Troy Riggs, who served as Corpus Christi’s chief of police from 2009 to 2011 and is now assistant city manager for public safety and health, says he brought the disparity to the attention of city leaders in 2009 when the police-recruiting class consisted of 15 men and no women. Riggs blames the allegedly discriminatory test on changes that occurred when the city’s HR department took over test administration in 2005. That function has since been returned to the police department.
Advice: Make sure your pre-employment applicant tests are truly job-related. They must measure applicants’ ability to perform essential job functions as defined in the position’s job description. If the test disparately impacts a protected group, explore less discriminatory options to achieve the same goal.