State police officials say agency does not discriminate against women

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HERSHEY, Pa. —  Pennsylvania State Police officials say they will fight a federal lawsuit that alleges they engage in a pattern of “employment discrimination against women” for entry-level troopers.

A lawsuit filed earlier this week by the U.S. Department of Justice alleges the agency's actions — specifically, its use of two physical fitness tests to screen entry-level troopers — are in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Every trooper — male or female — who comes out of the academy goes into a patrol car and is on patrol. They do exactly the same job,” said State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan, speaking Wednesday at the State Police Academy in Hershey. 

If they’re going to do the same work, “you have to have the same requirements,” he said. “If we were to lower our standards, then everybody would pass the test, and what’s the point of having a test?”

The test in question consists of a 300-meter run, which must be completed in 77 seconds; 13 push-ups (no time limit); a 14-inch vertical jump; a 1.5-mile run that must be completed in 17 minutes and 48 seconds; and an “agility run” during which the applicant must weave between obstacles, according to information from the state police.

Ninety-eight percent of males who take the test pass, compared to 72 percent of women, according to the lawsuit.

“The Department of Justice is deeply committed to eliminating artificial barriers that keep qualified women out of public safety work,” said a statement from Jocelyn Samuels, acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division.

The federal government is seeking a court order that would require state police to stop using the tests, develop hiring procedures that comply with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and “provide make-whole relief, including offers of hire, retroactive seniority, and back pay to individual women “who have been harmed as a result of the defendants’ use of the challenged physical fitness tests.”

Mr. Noonan conceded that women make up a low proportion of the state police work force — about 5 percent of troopers — but he attributed that to a number of other factors unrelated to the physical test, such as the nature of the job, its shift work, or having to be sent across the state.

“I don’t want any woman who is looking at a law enforcement career to think the Pennsylvania State Police is discriminating against women,” he said, adding that the agency focuses almost all of its recruiting attention on women and minorities.

“Perhaps with all this publicity, we’ll get more [female] applicants,” Mr. Noonan said. 

Kate Giammarise: 717-787-4254 or or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.

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