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Massachusetts Settles Claim by U.S. over Gender-Biased Prison Guard Exam

by Christopher Zoukis

The state of Massachusetts agreed to stop using the Caritas physical abilities test in the selection process of its prison guards upon a judicial finding that it negatively discriminated against women — and it agreed to work with the federal government to develop a new and fairer test.

     In 2009, the United States filed a complaint against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Department of Corrections over the state’s use of the Caritas physical abilities test, which, it argued, violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Evidence showed that in 2007, 97.2 percent of men passed the test compared to 55.1 percent of women. In 2008, 96 percent of men passed versus 65.2 percent of women. In 2009, 99 percent of men passed versus 84.2 percent of women. Upon review of this evidence in May 2011, Judge William G. Young found that the Commonwealth unintentionally imposed a disparate impact on women.

     On February 10, 2012, prior to a trial to determine the second part of the United States’ claim, the parties agreed on a settlement. Massachusetts would stop using the Caritas test and would work with the federal government to develop a new exam. There also would be priority hiring and back pay for 30 female candidates who failed the Caritas test and completed the new physical test.

 See: United States v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts, United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, Case No. 09-11623 (June 18, 2012)

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Related legal case

United States v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts