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EEOC lawsuits allege sex discrimination in physical ability tests

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

Three different cases. Three different theories of gender discrimination. But one common thread – an old school presumption that certain blue-collar jobs are a “man’s work.”

The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) has filed suit against three U.S. employers for sex discrimination in hiring. The lawsuits allege overt bias against female job candidates in the form of bogus physical tests, physical appearance, and a blatant “no girls allowed” hiring policy.

EEOC takes a strong stand against gender bias

Perhaps it was simply a coincidence of timing. But the EEOC is sending a message in three unconnected cases that gender discrimination will not be tolerated in 21st century America. When the EEOC was unable to resolve each of the cases through pre-litigation channels, it filed suit against a railroad (CSX Transportation), a shipping company (R&L Carriers) and a parking management service.

  • At CSX, female applicants failed physical requirement tests at a substantially higher rate than male candidates. Rather than indicating women are physically unfit for the industry, the EEOC contends that the tests favor men through arbitrary benchmarks.

Apparent rationale: They all take the same test. Not our fault if the ladies can’t cut it.

  • In the Eagle Parking case, a woman was turned down on the presumption – based on nothing more than her appearance – that she could not handle the “physicality” of the job. She was urged to apply for a desk job instead.

Apparent rationale: In the manager’s professional opinion, based on years of parking cars, a woman could not perform such a back-breaking feat.

  • In the R&L Carriers case, the EEOC alleges straight-up discrimination; no women are hired as dockworker and loaders, even when they are qualified candidates.

Apparent rationale: Some jobs are for dudes, and you’re not a dude.

Physical requirements can be an unfair barrier to women

The EEOC litigation will prompt a close look at physical ability requirements in candidate screening and hiring, particularly in traditionally male occupations. Courts have generally upheld the right of employers to use physical ability as a hiring criteria, with a few caveats: (a) physical tests must reflect the actual job duties, and (b) minimum requirements cannot be set arbitrarily high to exclude women.

For instance, only 7 percent of U.S. firefighters are female, chiefly because so few can pass the rigorous obstacle course exams. Through equal opportunity lawsuits, the physical ability standards have been scaled back in many jurisdictions to give female applicants a fighting chance to win the job and prove themselves. Detractors say the revised standards are watered down and compromise safety. Proponents say the standards were based on male demographics and were unnecessarily tough — no firefighter performs all those feats in an actual fire call.

Is the job really that rigorous?

Most blue-collar jobs do not require “American Ninja” strength and agility. Basic physical fitness is typically sufficient, and those who truly can’t do the work will soon quit or be let go. Too often, the barrier to employment is not women’s muscles but men’s outdated attitudes.

This blog was originally published at passmanandkaplan.com on August 8, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Authors: Founded in 1990 by Edward H. Passman and Joseph V. Kaplan, Passman & Kaplan, P.C., Attorneys at Law, is focused on protecting the rights of federal employees and promoting workplace fairness.  The attorneys of Passman & Kaplan (Edward H. Passman, Joseph V. Kaplan, Adria S. Zeldin, Andrew J. Perlmutter, Johnathan P. Lloyd and Erik D. Snyder) represent federal employees before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and other federal administrative agencies, and also represent employees in U.S. District and Appeals Courts.

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