December 28, 2010

Applicant rejected after being found overqualified for appointment to the position

Applicant rejected after being found overqualified for appointment to the position
City of New London v Harrigan, CA2*

May an individual be so overqualified for the position so as to justify his or her being rejected for an appointment to the title? This was the issue raised in the Harrigan, a case decided by the US Circuit Court of Appeals, Second Circuit on August 23, 2000.

In March 1996 Robert Jordan and some 500 other candidates for appointment as police officers with various municipal police departments in Connecticut were screened using the Wonderlic Personnel Test and Scholastic Level Exam [WPT]. The test is used to measure cognitive ability.

Recommended scores for various professions are listed in the WPT manual and it notes that overqualified candidates may soon become bored with unchallenging work and quit, and that [s]imply hiring the highest scoring employee can be self-defeating. Jordan scored a 33 on the WPT, above the median for any listed occupation, and well over the normative median of 21 suggested for a police patrol officer.

Jordan then learned that he would not be interviewed by the City of New London because he didn’t fit the profile. New London explained that Jordan had scored a 33 on the WPT, and that to prevent frequent job turnover caused by hiring overqualified applicants New London only interviewed candidates who scored between 20 and 27.

Jordan sued, contending that the City had denied him equal protection in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and Article 4, Section 20, of the Connecticut Constitution.

A federal district court judge granted the City’s motion for summary judgment. The Second Circuit affirmed the lower court’s ruling, concluding that:

New London’s use of an upper cut did not violate the equal protection clause since [A] statutory classification that neither proceeds along suspect lines nor infringes fundamental constitutional rights must be upheld against equal protection challenge if there is any reasonably conceivable state of facts that could provide a rational basis for the classification ... concluding that even absent a strong proven statistical correlation between high scores on the Wonderlic test and turnover resulting from lack of job satisfaction, it is enough that the city believed - on the basis of material prepared by the test maker and a letter along similar lines sent by the LEC - that there was such a connection.

* This is an unpublished opinion. A court may not prohibit or restrict the citation of federal judicial opinions, orders, judgments, or other written dispositions that have been (i) designated as "unpublished," "not for publication," "non-precedential," "not precedent," or the like; and (ii) issued on or after January 1, 2007.

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