Court rules that Civil Service Promotional Exam (HRD) has discriminatory impact
Late yesterday, the Commonwealth’s Human Resources Division sent notice that it will not score the recently completed police promotional exams, nor will it be giving certain upcoming public safety promotional exams. It comes as no surprise that this alarmed many within the Massachusetts’ public safety community. The situation and its ripple effect is not yet clear. We expect more information in the coming days and weeks.The decision is the result of a late October Superior Court ruling in Tatum et al v. Commonwealth of Mass HRD. The full 75-page ruling is attached below. In large part, the decision contains a statistical analysis of how, according to the court, the promotional exam unfairly impacts minority communities. The case was a class action brought by individuals employed in many cities and towns, and is part of litigation dating back to 2005. Several exam periods were examined (2005 – 2012). This ruling – the first phase of the trial – determined that the Commonwealth interfered with the right to be considered for promotion without regard to race or national origin, and that the Commonwealth was aware for many years that it was perpetuating a “discriminatory system” and failed to take steps to fix it.
The case was decided by a single superior court judge during a bench trial. He found, among other things, that
- the multiple choice format was not related to a sergeant’s job duties;
- the memorization format had a discriminatory impact on minorities;
- the Education and Experience weighted component was not justified;
- that better alternatives were available, such as fewer test questions, removal of memorization format, smaller reading lists, making the test “pass-fail”; banding scores, assessment centers, and interviews, etc.
The case will now proceed to the remedy phase, which according to the court must address the “deep seated illegality in the testing format by HRD at least for the 2006, 06, 07, 08, 2010 and 2012 exams.” The court did, however, suggest that promotions that have been already made will not be affected.
HRD has indicated that it will refund the testing fees for those impacted. It remains unclear what other damages will result from the decision. Obviously many individuals have spent money and time well beyond just the test fees, and we are analyzing that issue as well and will update accordingly. What is next for the promotion process is unknown. Importantly, any changes to the process, its criteria, use of assessment centers, etc. are generally mandatory subjects of bargaining, and unions have rights under GL c. 150E with regard to such changes.
For those interested, the actual full decision is attached CLICK HERE