Pa. State Police sued by feds for discrimination against women

The Pennsylvania State Police discriminates against women, according to a lawsuit filed by the United States Department of Justice.

The suit filed in Harrisburg’s federal court late Tuesday claims that fitness readiness screening used by the PSP to weed out applicants is an artificial barrier to bar women. It is a Title VII violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to the complaint.

Wednesday, the PSP responded with a media open-house and news conference at its training academy in Hershey. A fit female trooper put the current cadets through a series of exercises.

State Police training is notoriously difficult.

But before cadets get into the academy, applicants are screened for fitness, which the Department of Justice calls “employment discrimination against women.”

The suit claims that between 2003 and 2008, 94 percent of men passed while only 71 percent of women were successful.

“Those numbers sort of prove that this is not an impossible task,” State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan said. “We’re not looking for Olympic athletes. We’re looking for people who have strength and dedication that can do this job.”

Noonan blasted the feds for bringing the suit. He said every trooper does the exact same job for the first few years on the force and therefore must all meet the same standards. He said after graduating from the academy all new troopers will spend three to five years in a patrol car on Pennsylvania roadways.

“We will not be bullied into changing and lowering our standards by the Department of Justice or anyone else,” Noonan said forcefully.

Noonan also insists that the “fitness readiness test” isn’t all that tough. It requires an applicant to:

– do a 300-meter run in 77 seconds

– do 13 push-ups (no time limit)

– jump vertically 14 inches

– complete a 1.5 mile run in 17 minutes, 48 seconds

– complete an agility run in 23.5 seconds

“Is that the kind of person, somebody who can’t pass that test, that you want your life in their hands? I don’t,” Noonan said.

Nine of the 90 cadets currently at the academy – 10 percent – are female. But overall just five percent of the force are women, including 20-year veteran Sgt. Linette Quinn.

“We who are on the job have met those standards and are pretty proud of that,” Quinn said. “We want to maintain those standards to be able to meet the needs of the department, the commonwealth and the people we protect and serve, and be able to take care of each other out there.”

Boxing was part of the demonstration cadets performed Wednesday at the academy. Noonan would rather not have to fight the feds in court. He worries about legal costs and the black eye to PSP’s reputation. He hopes, somehow, the Department of Justice will just drop its suit.

“What I don’t want is for the next four or five years while this lawsuit is hanging over our head for women to be intimidated and think the State Police are discriminating against women,” he said.. “Nothing could be farther from the truth.”

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