BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – A federal judge has ruled that for years the state of Connecticut discriminated against hundreds of women who applied for jobs as prison guards with the Department of Corrections.
The ruling takes the extraordinary step of granting final judgment before even reaching a trial. The case will now enter the relief phase, and plaintiffs will seek cash payments for lost wages totaling well over $1 million, and the possibility of being hired for the jobs for which they had applied.
The class-action lawsuit was originally filed in May 2008 by attorneys at Outten & Golden LLP and Public Citizen Litigation Group on behalf of Cherie Easterling of Bloomfield, Conn., the lead plaintiff representing the class of women who were subjected to the discriminatory job application test. The court will schedule a conference soon to determine the amount of the damages and the details of an injunction.
To apply for the jobs as prison guards, the women were required to run 1.5 miles within set times. U.S. District Court Judge Janet C. Hall ruled that, on average, female applicants for the prison guard positions failed the physical fitness test at a rate that was much higher than their male counterparts, that the 1.5-mile run test had no relationship with the requirements of the job and that it therefore was unlawful.
The state Department of Corrections “was aware of this adverse impact as early as September 2004,” and the department chose to use the results of the tests “despite its adverse impact on women,” the lawsuit said.
In 2005, Easterling filed a complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities as well as the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. By February 2008, both government agencies granted Easterling the right to sue in court.
“The defendant has presented no evidence showing the timed 1.5 mile run to be predictive of who can perform the essential physical functions of the job” of corrections officer, Judge Hall said in her 37-page decision.
“We have always found it absurd that any applicant who could not run 1.5 miles at a certain speed was automatically rejected right then and there, regardless of how well qualified they were in all other respects. There’s no place in any Connecticut prison where anyone could run nearly that far,” said one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, Seth M. Marnin, of Outten & Golden. “And there’s never been any dispute that women passed the run test at a lower rate than men. When an employer uses an arbitrary test like this, and the test favors men over women, it violates the federal Civil Rights Act and is illegal.”
Added Public Citizen attorney Michael Kirkpatrick, “It is hard to understand why the Department of Corrections continued to rely on a test that they knew was discriminatory and had no relationship to a person’s ability to perform well as a prison guard. Not only did all these women lose a potential source of livelihood, but the state lost an opportunity to hire applicants who may have been excellent guards.”