Justice Department Sues Massachusetts and Its Department of Corrections for Discriminating Against Female Job Applicants

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced that it has filed a lawsuit today against the commonwealth of Massachusetts and its Department of Corrections (MDOC), alleging that they engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination against female applicants for entry-level correctional officer positions, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended. Title VII is a federal statute that prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin and religion.

The department’s complaint, filed in federal court in Boston, alleges that Massachusetts and the MDOC are using an unlawful physical abilities test (PAT) that disproportionately screens out female applicants for entry-level correctional officer jobs, resulting in a significant disparate impact against female applicants. According to the complaint, in 2007 and 2008, female applicants for the entry-level jobs of correctional officer and correctional program officer passed the PAT at a rate of approximately 58.8 percent, while the corresponding pass rate for male applicants was approximately 96.3 percent. Title VII prohibits not only intentional discrimination in employment, but also the use of employment practices, such as physical performance tests, which result in disparate impact, unless the employer can prove that such practices are “job related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity.” The complaint states that the commonwealth and the MDOC’s use of the PAT is not job related and consistent with business necessity and, therefore, violates Title VII.

“Bringing an end to practices that have a discriminatory impact on the basis of sex is a major priority of the Justice Department and the Civil Rights Division. Physical abilities tests, like the one used by Massachusetts and the MDOC, should measure applicants’ ability to do the job without disproportionately screening out large numbers of qualified female applicants,” said Loretta King, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.

The government’s complaint seeks a court order that would require Massachusetts and the MDOC to stop using the challenged PAT, adopt and use a physical fitness test for correctional officer applicants that complies with Title VII and provide remedial relief (including, as appropriate, job offers, retroactive seniority and back pay) to those female applicants who were harmed by the use of the PAT.

The continued enforcement of Title VII is a high priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is available on its Web site at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/.


  1. "FROM PATERNALISM TO EMPOWERMENT: Why the DOJ Should Emphasize Anti-discrimination and First Amendment Enforcement in Protecting America’s Most Vulnerable People"

    Summary: By the time related circumstances warrant federal intervention, historically protected people are often more than discrimination victims, having by then become advocates for personal vindication and broader reform. As envisioned by our U. S. Civil Rights Commission in 1965, “(p)rimary responsibility for correcting (their) problems . . . rests with the individual States” which fail given obstacles more insidious than unlawful discrimination. Anyone legitimately pressing beyond local officials to our federal government for relief, needs a DOJ committed to First Amendment as much if not more than anti-discrimination enforcement.

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