Judge says Conn. discriminated against aspiring female prison guards

By Pat Eaton-Robb
Associated Press / May 10, 2011

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HARTFORD — More than 100 women who applied to be prison guards in Connecticut were subjected to a discriminatory physical fitness test, a federal judge has ruled.

US District Judge Janet Hall, in a ruling dated May 5, granted a motion for summary judgment in a class-action lawsuit filed against the Department of Correction in 2008 by attorneys for a Bloomfield woman, Cherie Easterling.

Easterling, now 32 and living in Simsbury, was rejected as a candidate to become a corrections officer in 2004 when she failed to run 1 1/2 miles in a required time of under 14:49.

She had successfully completed a written exam and other portions of the fitness test, which also required her to perform sit-ups and push-ups and demonstrate flexibility.

In 2004, 148 female and 740 male applicants were asked to complete the run. Fewer than 63 percent of women completed the run in the allotted time, compared with 82 percent of the men. The men in Easterling’s age range were required to run the eight-lap course in 12:25. Easterling had about a lap to complete when officials told her that time had expired, said Seth Marnin, one of her lawyers.

“The test had a disparate impact on women, and the state could not justify that, which is why the court found in our favor,’’ he said.

The state argued that a lower percentage of women passed the test as the result of the department’s efforts to actively recruit minorities, which it argued tend to have a lower level of cardiovascular fitness. But the judge said there was no evidence those recruitment efforts specifically targeted women. She also wrote that the state failed to show why the test was needed at all.

“The defendant has presented no evidence showing the timed 1 1/2-mile run to be predictive of who can perform the essential physical functions of the job’’ of a guard, Hall wrote.

In 2007, the state changed the run portion of the test from 1 1/2 miles to 300 meters.

Prisons spokesman Brian Garnett said yesterday that the Department of Correction is committed to providing a workplace free of discrimination.