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Justice Department Claims PA State Police Discriminates Against Women

The Pennsylvania State Police plan to fight a federal lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice claiming that the physical fitness test discriminates against women seeking to become troopers.

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court in Harrisburg, alleges that the physical fitness tests used by the state police from 2003 to the present excluded qualified women from consideration for hire as entry-level state troopers by testing for physical skills that are not required to perform the job.

State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan denies that saying the fitness test was developed by an independent party after reviewing the required tasks of entry-level troopers and assessing the physical skills needed to perform those tasks.

“All troopers, male and female, work in a patrol car for at least three to five years,” Noonan says.  “They do exactly the same job.  Therefore, since it is exactly the same job, we have to have exactly the same standards for people who join the Pennsylvania State Police.”

The Department of Justice issued a statement saying the physical fitness test violates Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which prohibits both intentional discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin and religion and the test “does not identify the best qualified applicants for entry-level state trooper jobs.”

“The Department of Justice is deeply committed to eliminating artificial barriers that keep qualified women out of public safety work,” said Jocelyn Samuels, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue to challenge discriminatory hiring practices that unnecessarily exclude qualified applicants on account of sex.”

But Noonan says before it was implemented the test was further refined to “specifically avoid disparate impact on females.”

The current fitness test requires all applicants to complete:

  • a 300-meter run within 77 seconds
  • 13 pushups (no time limit)
  • a vertical jump of 14 inches
  • a 1.5 mile run within 17 minutes 48 seconds
  • an agility run within 23.5 seconds

According to the lawsuit, from 2003 to 2008, 94 percent of male applicants and 72 percent of female applicants passed the test. From 2009 (when some adjustments were made) through 2012, those numbers rose to 98 and 74 percent respectively.
Noonan says lowering the fitness standards would be an insult to the current troopers who have already achieved those standards “and, more importantly, would endanger current and future troopers, the residents of Pennsylvania and all individuals served by the distinguished men and women of the Pennsylvania State Police.”

He added that their recruitment efforts are focused on minorities and women but “everyone in the state police can do the job and everyone in the future in the state police is going to have to do the job.”

Trooper Lynette Quinn said she would be disappointed if the standards are changed. 

“I think that we all who are on the job are pretty proud of that," she said, "and we want to maintain those standards in order to meet the needs of the department, the commonwealth, the people who we protect and serve and to be able to take care of each other out there, not only ourselves but each other.”