Agility tests for firefighters must be validated as job related
Pietras v Farmingdale Fire District, USDC EDNY, 94-CV-0673
U.S. District Court Judge Denis R. Hurley ruled that an agility test for a volunteer firefighter unlawfully discriminated against Victoria Pietras because of her gender.
Pietras, a probationary volunteer firefighter with the Farmingdale Volunteer Fire Department, was required to drag to drag a 280 pound fire hose 150 feet in four minutes. Her best time was four minutes, forty-seven seconds. Rejected for full firefighter status, she sued contending that this portion of the agility test had a disparate impact on women in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Although Judge Hurley ruled that the Department “established that the contents of the test are job-related” he decided that “the same may not be said of the requirement that it be completed within four minutes.”
How was the four-minute hose drag requirement determined? The Department said that it gave the test to 44 members of the Department, including probationary and junior members. It found that the average time to complete the task was “about three and one half minutes.” It then added an additional half-minute for “leeway,” arriving at the four-minute requirement.
This process, said the Court, was insufficient to establish that “the four-minute time limit is anything other than arbitrary.”
Critical to Judge Hurley’s analysis was his finding that “the purpose of the test was to distinguish competent firefighter candidates from those without the necessary physical abilities to do the job.”
Judge Hurley concluded that to set a standard there had to be some type of job analysis but there was nothing in the record to indicate that such a study had been made, either before administering the test or “after the fact.” This, said the Court, indicated that the standard set by the Department had not been “validated.”
Judge Hurley directed the Department to reinstate Pietras, noting that it could administer another agility test to her as a pre-requisite to her becoming a full member but that any such test had to comply with the relevant federal and state civil rights laws.
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