Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Friday, November 17, 2006

Disparate Impact, Part Deux - When It Works


After writing less than 12 hours ago about how disparate impact cases are both difficult and "not every day fare," I am of course shown up by a decision affirming such a finding of disparate impact from another circuit court.

In EEOC v. Dial Corp. (8th Cir. 11/17/06) [pdf] the Court affirmed not only a finding of pattern and practice intentional discrimination, but also a disparate impact finding based on a weight lifting test for employees whose duties involved carrying and stacking boxes of sausage all day long. The test was found to be discriminatory to women, who went from holding almost half the jobs pre-test, to less than 8% of female applicants being hired in the last year the test was in use. In terms of magnitude, it was almost 10 standard deviations, far surpassing the two to three which is the key for establishing a disparate impact.

The test had been put in place to cut a high injury rate and it seemed to have had that effect. Still, the Court affirmed the lower court's finding that Dial Corp. had failed in showing a business necessity for the test. As often happens this boiled down to a battle of the experts:

Dial's physiology expert testified that the WTS was highly representative of the actions required by the job, and Dial claims that his testimony was not rebutted by EEOC which had no physiology witness. The district court was persuaded by EEOC's expert in industrial organization and his testimony "that a crucial aspect of the WTS is more difficult than the sausage making jobs themselves" and that the average applicant had to perform four times as many lifts as current employees and had no rest breaks. There was also evidence that in a testing environment where hiring is contingent upon test performance, applicants tend to work as fast as possible during the test in order to outperform the competition.

The 8th Circuit also upheld the district court's finding that in addition to back pay, the employer was liable for the amount of premiums paid for healthcare insurance the applicants would have been entitled to if they had been hired. The employer had argued that it should only be liable for actual medical expenses.

The Court upheld back pay for the entire period from application to the time of trial, notwithstanding the employer's evidence that based on the high rate of turnover it was unlikley that the applicants would have been employed for the entire period.

And even the one small victory for the employer, denial of back pay to an employee who had a felony conviction, was sent back for further factual finding.

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