Charles Sledge, an African-American builder at a tire manufacturing plant for 23 years, was repeatedly denied the chance to interview for a promotion to mechanic. In every case, the positions were filled by white employees.
The last straw: When two mechanic jobs opened, Sledge again applied, with a letter of recommendation from his supervisors. He was told applicants had to pass a two-part test: a written exam involving math problems plus a practical part that judged repair and welding skills.
Several applicants were tested. Sledge was not. HR denied his request to take the exam. The positions were filled by two white workers who had not taken the test. Sledge sued, charging failure to promote and racial discrimination.
A federal appeals court sided with Sledge, saying he had plenty of proof to take his case to a jury. Reason: While the company argued that Sledge wasn't qualified for the job, its failure to even let him take the written exam smacked of discrimination.
The court called the evidence of racial discrimination "compelling" and said a jury could reasonably find that "HR's goal was to ensure that no black would become a maintenance mechanic."
Further proof: One of the white employees was given the mechanic job even though he failed the exam, not once but twice. (Sledge v. Goodyear Dunlop, 11th Cir., No. 99-15416, 2001)
Advice: It's vital to understand what each of your hiring tests really measures and why you're measuring it. If you don't have a solid business-related reason for a job test, bag it. You must be able to show that success on the test reliably predicts success on the job.
Also, make sure your test results don't have a disproportionately harmful impact on people in protected categories. In general, a test is considered discriminatory if the pass rate for applicants from a protected group is less than 80 percent of that for the group with the highest selection rate.
Here are five steps to creating a lawsuit-proof test:
1. Judge what information you hope to gather. It should directly relate to a specific attribute or skill required for the job.
2. Administer tests consistently.
3. Obtain the applicant's written consent to be tested.
4. Keep results confidential.
5. Monitor the impact of your testing on protected groups.
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