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Lanning versus SEPTA Essay

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Updated: May 11th, 2020

The Lanning versus Southeastern Pennsylvania Transport Authority (SEPTA) class action has been adopted by many scholars interested in discussing employment discrimination law and laws related to employment testing practices (Gutman, 2012). In this particular case, five women filed for a class action in the district court citing discrimination in the physical fitness test that all job applicants were required to complete prior to becoming eligible for employment as police officers in the transport authority (Sleiman, 2004). The present paper not only discusses important issues arising from the case, but also addresses the evidence of discriminatory effects by illuminating the distinction between job-relatedness and business necessity.

The most important issues in the case entail investigating the legalities of SEPTA’s physical fitness test, as well as discussing the distinction between job-relatedness and business necessity. The five women (plaintiffs) argued in the district court that they had satisfied all administrative requirements for positions as transit police officers; however, they felt the physical entrance test requiring them to run for 1.5 miles in 12 minutes or less had a disproportionately adverse effect on them going by the high failure rates compared to male job applicants (Sleiman, 2004).

The women appear to have had a strong case based on the fact the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution requires that all individuals be given equal opportunities regardless of their group membership, not mentioning that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits both disparate treatment (occurs when an employer intentionally discriminates against an individual based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin) and disparate impact (occurs when an employment practice or procedure is consistently applied to all employees, but results in the exclusion of a disproportionate number of people from protected groups) (Industrial/Organizational Solutions, Inc, 2010).

Drawing from the above description, it can be argued that the legality of SEPTA’s physical fitness test is grounded on several factors, namely (1) the plaintiffs were not intentionally treated differently from other potential candidates, as the fitness test was applied across board to enhance the level of fitness, physical vigor, and general productivity of the authority’s police force, (2) the disparate impact produced by the physical fitness test was job-related and consistent with business necessity in that police officers require a higher level of aerobic capacity to be able to successfully perform the required duties, and (3) the fitness test run assessed the minimum qualifications necessary in terms of aerobic capability to successfully perform the duties of a SEPTA transit officer, as multiple studies had indicated a strong correlation between individuals who failed physical fitness tests and their incapacity to successfully execute critical policing tasks (Gutman, 2012; Sleiman, 2004).

At a personal level, the use of employment screening examinations should be permitted as long as it does not go against the provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. However, employers should take caution on how to deal with the key issues of disparate treatment and disparate impact to avoid accusations of engaging in discriminatory employment practices. It is important to assess beforehand whether any disparate impact on a protected group of individuals (e.g., women recruits) will be viewed as a discriminatory practice or as a business necessity that must be protected for the organization to fulfill its recruitment and selection needs.

Overall, the appeals court affirmed the district’s court ruling that the perceived disparate impact on female candidates for failing the fitness test run could not be ruled as a discriminatory employee selection practice but as a business necessity in assessing the minimum aerobic capability necessary for job applicants to successfully perform the duties of transit police officers upon recruitment.

References

Gutman, A. (2012). Legal constraints on personnel selection decisions. In N. Schmitt (Ed.), The oxford handbook of personnel assessment and selection (pp. 686-720). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Industrial/Organizational Solutions, Inc. (2010). Laws related to employment testing and practices. Web.

Sleiman, L. (2004). A duty to make reasonable efforts and a defense of the disparate impact doctrine in employment discrimination law. Fordham Law Review, 72(6), 2677-2728.

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