Women paramedics prove physical skills test violated Title VII
- The 7th District Court of Appeals ruled that five female paramedics whom the Chicago Fire Department wouldn’t hire for failing a science-validated physical test could claim the city intentionally discriminated against them because they are women. Chicago had added the physical as criteria for hiring paramedics.
- The women were experienced paramedics who had worked for emergency medical services. They claimed their physical abilities never stopped them from serving the people they attended. They sued Chicago, charging that the physical test was designed to keep women paramedics out of the department.
- Their two-part lawsuit claimed that Chicago added the physical test to intentionally discriminate against women and that the city used improper statistical procedures to validate the test. The women eventually won on appeals.
Intentional discrimination can be hard to prove. Judge rulings favor plaintiffs only if they produce evidence of intent. Disparate treatment is intentional. For example, testing one group of protected workers on certain criteria, while knowing the results will disproportionately affect the group, can trigger a lawsuit. Employers need to justify why a practice or procedure is necessary to avoid losing a suit.
Disparate impact involves rules, policies, procedures or acts that appear neutral but disproportionately affect a protected group. Employers can minimize the risk of being sued by monitoring or eliminating practices that could be seen as discriminatory.