Civil Service Promotional Exam Discrimination Lawsuit

A group of Hispanic and African-American police officers, who are employed by various Civil Service Police Departments in Massachusetts, have filed a class action discrimination lawsuit in Suffolk Superior Court, wherein they have alleged that the Massachusetts Police Sergeant’s Promotional Examination has an adverse discriminatory impact on minority police officers who are candidates for promotion to the position of Sergeant. The crux of their claim is that they were qualified to perform as Sergeants but unfairly denied promotional opportunities because the Sergeant’s Promotional Examination unfairly discriminates against African-American and Hispanic candidates for promotion. In support of their claim, they allege that minorities are underrepresented in the ranks of supervisory officers in Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts Human Resources Division is charged with creating, administering, and scoring the promotional examinations. The police promotional exam consists of written, multiple choice questions which are taken directly from textbooks selected in advance. The plaintiffs have alleged that the multiple-choice promotional examination is not a valid predictor of successful job performance and that it has a well known disparate impact on black and Hispanic candidates for the position of Sergeant.

HRD filed a Motion to Dismiss the discrimination lawsuit on the grounds that it was not the Police Officers’ “employer” as defined by Massachusetts Discrimination Law. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that, pursuant to G. L. c. 151B, § 4 (4A), the plaintiff’s disparate impact race discrimination claim could proceed and it denied dismissal of the portion of the complaint alleging discrimination under § 4. More details will follow as this important case works its way through the court system.