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Georgia-Pacific’s literacy test fails to make the grade

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in Human Resources

The U.S. Labor Department recently ruled that Georgia-Pacific’s use of a literacy test to screen applicants for jobs at its paper mills is discriminatory. The reason: Paper-mill workers don’t need to read well and black applicants are far more likely to fail a literacy test than whites, the department said.

The Atlanta-based papermaker disagreed, but said it will comply with the department’s order to stop using the tests and to pay $749,076 in back pay and interest to 399 black applicants turned down over the past two years. The company also agreed to hire 24 of the 399 applicants.

A Georgia-Pacific spokeswoman said the company screened applicants with the literacy portion of the Test of Adult Basic Education because Georgia-Pacific promotes from within and considers literacy important for higher-level jobs. No one complained about the test—the department uncovered the practice during a routine audit conducted because of a federal contract.

Final note: A screening test is considered discriminatory if it disproportionately screens out members of a protected group and is not pertinent to the job in question. Make sure any screening tests you use apply directly to the candidate’s job and do not screen out members of a protected group. Save more specific tests for higher-level jobs if and when employees apply for those. After all, not everyone wants to move up.

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