DOJ settles allegations of employment discrimination at state Department of Correction
Posted February 16, 2012
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced February 10 that it has entered into a settlement that, if approved by the court, will resolve the department’s allegations that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Department of Correction violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by discriminating against female applicants for entry-level correction officer (CO) and correction program officer (CPO) positions.
Title VII’s prohibitions of discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, or religion proscribe not only intentional discrimination, but also the use of employment practices (e.g., physical tests) that result in disparate impact. Unless the employer can prove that such practices are job related and consistent with business necessity, employment practices that disproportionately screen out applicants based upon sex do not identify the best qualified candidates and violate the law. The DOJ’s complaint alleges that Massachusetts’s use of a physical abilities test to prescreen and select applicants for CO and CPO positions disproportionately excluded female applicants since 2007 and was not job related and consistent with business necessity.
The settlement agreement requires that Massachusetts no longer use the physical abilities test for prescreening and selecting applicants, and requires that Massachusetts develop a new lawful selection procedure that complies with Title VII. The settlement agreement, if approved by the court, also requires that Massachusetts pay $736,000 toward back pay to female CO and CPO applicants who were harmed by the hiring practice and who are determined to be eligible for relief. Additionally, female CO and CPO applicants determined to be eligible for relief under the settlement agreement may receive a priority offer of hire to a CO and CPO position with the Department of Correction. All CO and CPO applicants must pass a physical test and other lawful selection procedures to be considered for priority hire relief. Female CO and CPO applicants eligible for priority hire relief and those currently employed with the department who are entitled to delay hire relief are also eligible for retroactive seniority relief.
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