urinals2Connecticut’s drug testing statutes applicable to employers have always been a bit tricky to follow.  I covered the basics of these laws back in 2010 (you’ve been reading that long, right?).

For job applicants, employers must follow certain rules. Once an applicant becomes an employee, a new set of more stringent rules apply.

But to what?

In a case earlier this year, a Connecticut Superior Court had to address that issue and more. In the case (Schofield v. Loureiro Engineering Associates), the plaintiff was forced to undergo drug testing of his hair by his employer, two weeks after starting. He was fired as a result of the test.

The employee claimed that the restrictive drug testing rules of Connecticut law should apply. However, the Superior Court said otherwise.  It found that the rules regulate urine-based drug testing only, not any OTHER form of drug testing.

[The drug testing statutes in question apply only to urinalysis testing and do not cover an employee who is subjected to other forms of drug testing. . . . While the logic of plaintiff’s position is readily understood and the seemingly irrational inconsistency which flows from the disparate protections made evident in this opinion are undeniable, “the task of changing the law lies with the legislature and not with the judiciary.”

So, does this mean that employers are free to engage in all sorts of drug testing? Well, perhaps not. While disallowing any claim under the state’s drug testing laws, the Court did allow a “wrongful discharge” claim to proceed.

Thus, what the court giveth, it also taketh away.

For employers, drug testing of current employees in particular is fraught with challenges. Be sure your program meets all legal requirements (both state and federal) and use this case as a warning sign. Things aren’t always what they seem.

The final regulations of GINA were released today — nearly 18 months after the proposed regulations were first released.    You can download a copy of the regulations here. The actual text starts at about page 75. 

As I’ve said earlier, however, employers in Connecticut should be wary about just following GINA however. Connecticut has long had a separate state law on the subject in Conn. Gen. Stat. 46a-60(a)(11).

The new regulations do provide some guidance in specific areas. For example, what kind of tests are not considered genetic testing?    A test for infectious and communicable diseases that may be
transmitted through food handling; and, complete blood counts, cholesterol tests, and liver-function
tests.  Testing for the presence of alcohol is not a genetic test while testing to see if someone has a genetic predisposition to alcoholism is a genetic test.

The new regulations also clarify that even a simple "Internet search" could be a banned practice:

A covered entity may not request, require, or purchase genetic information of an individual or family member of the individual, except as specifically provided in paragraph (b) of this section. “Request” includes conducting an Internet search on an individual in a way that is likely to result in a covered entity obtaining genetic information;

I’m sure there will be lots of analysis of these new regulations in the days and weeks to come and I hope to summarize that feedback in an upcoming post. But for those looking for a sneak peek at the regulations, you can read them for yourself. 

Although I tipped my hand yesterday through some posts (here and here) and an interview with the Connecticut Law Tribune, here are some takeaways for employers from the Ricci v. DeStefano case.

  1. The Decision Applies to Private Employers.   Before Ricci was decided, the case could’ve gone two ways — it could have been based on constitutional (equal protection) grounds, or on statutory (Title VII — the law prohibiting race and gender discrimination) grounds. The Court decided to go with the latter.  Why does that make a difference? Because Title VII applies to both private and public employers; if it had been decided on equal protection grounds, it would likely have applied only to public (governmental) employers.
  2. Testing Will Never Be The Same.  Whether public or private, employers who use tests to assist them in hiring and promotional decisions get some guidance now in the area. Unfortunately, the guidance that the Supreme Court provides isn’t particularly illuminating. Parsing things out, the court suggests that if a test is designed to be race-neutral, the fact that the numbers come out differently than an employer expects is not, in and of itself, enough to throw out the results of the test. There needs to be something more, some "strong evidence in fact". What that is remains to be seen.

    But supposing that an employer does accept the results of the test, can it defend itself from a disparate impact claim? The court says yes.  The court suggests that as long as an employer designs a test that is that is “job related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity” that might get the employer some traction in defending a claim of disparate impact.  Even in that case, however, the Court opens to the door to employees too: The employee can still win a disparate impact claim if the employer refuses to adopt an available alternative practice that has less disparate impact and serves the employer’s legitimate needs.

    As a result, employers who use testing in particular will need to be able to rule out other alternatives that it might have used to make its hiring and promotional decisions. (Note: Title VII does contain specific provisions regarding testing as well so employers should not forget to look to the statutory language as well.) 

  3. Affirmative Action Plans and Diversity Plans Are OK For Now. Maybe.  Some larger companies have programs now that try to ensure that the makeup of their workforce properly represents the makeup of the population.  For example, the employer may track "high potential" employees (particularly minorities) within their corporation to ensure that they receive proper consideration for promotions and opportunities.  Are these programs ok?

    The court suggests that it will allow for some affirmative action plans and notes that employer’s "voluntary compliance efforts" are essential to the success of Title VII:
    "[We do not] question an employer’s affirmative efforts to ensure that all groups have a fair opportunity to apply for promotions and to participate in the process by which promotions will be made. But once that process has been established and employers have made clear their selection criteria, they may not then invalidate the test results, thus upsetting an employee’s legitimate expectation not to be judged on the basis of race. … "

    For employers, it suggests that you can review your policies and practices that ensure that minorities have a fair chance to succeed, but reinforces the view that you still cannot make your decisions to hire and promote based on race.  But how much "affirmative efforts" an employer can use, remains an unanswered question from Ricci.

  4. Tread Cautiously In Conducting a Disparate Impact Analysis for Layoffs and Terminations.  One area that disparate impact claims arise is in the context of layoffs and reductions in force. For example, an employee may claim that the black workers were twice as likely to be laid off as white workers.   As a result, many employers have started to conduct a disparate impact analysis before the termination to see if the raw statistics are of concern.  If they are, employers sometimes reconsider their decisions or re-engineer the layoff criteria to remove such a disparate impact. In other cases, employers simply review the particularly data to ensure that the decisions were fair.  

    Ricci leaves open the question of whether that practice is legal under Title VII.  The court does suggest that the city "was not entitled to disregard the tests based solely on the racial disparity in the results".  Does this mean that employer — once it settles on a process for terminations — cannot change that system after it runs the numbers? At one point is the employer "stuck" with the results? That will likely be the subject of litigation at some point. 

  5. Don’t Expect This Law to Remain Static.  One thing is certain — there are likely to be some more changes to this law in the years to come. One way is through Congressional action (as Senator Patrick Leahy has already suggested). Another way is through additional Supreme Court action. Indeed, Justice Scalia has suggested that there are battles yet to come on this issue:

                    [The] resolution of this dispute merely postpones the evil day on which the Court will have to confront the question: Whether, or to what extent, are the disparate-impact provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 consistent with the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection? The question is not an easy one.

As a reminder, I’ll be participating in a free webinar next week on this subject. I anticipate that it’ll focus on the practical implications of the decisions and additional steps that employers can take now to avoid becoming the next test case before the Court. 

Ed: Updated to reflect newer posts and correct style

There are many employment lawyers who subscribe to the belief that "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished".  A case out of Connecticut and the Second Circuit this month certainly won’t change that perception.  Indeed, although the case may have political undertones, it sets up a classic factual case of an employer who apparently tries to do the right thing and STILL gets sued for their actions.  Ultimately, the Second Circuit has affirmed that the employer did not violate the law but the issue still remains far from settled. 

Here’s the basic facts and background of Ricci v. DeStefano:

In March 2004, New Haven, Connecticut Fire Department held two promotional exams for the positions of Lieutenant and Captain.  However, the New Haven Civil Service Board (“CSB”) refused to certify the results of those exams because statistically, the test results showed that the test may have had a disparate impact on African-Americans. 

A group of seventeen white candidates and one Hispanic candidates who took the promotional exams sued.  These candidates fared fared very well on the test but did not receive a promotion because without the CSB’s certification of the test results, the promotional process could not proceed.

The Plaintiffs asserted that the refusal to certify the examination results violated their rights under Title VII and the Equal Protection Clause. In 2006, the District Court of Connecticut granted New Haven’s motion for summary judgment (decision here) — effectively dismissing  the case. 

CSB officials said, in their papers, that the reason they refused to certify the results is their desire to comply with the letter and the spirit of Title VII. The District Court noted that "Plaintiffs deride this ‘feigned desire to ‘comply’ with Title VII,’ arguing that defendants in fact violated that statute, and their actions were a mere pretext for promoting the interests of African-American firefighters and political supporters of the mayor. "

What is noteworthy, as the lower court pointed out, is that the case presents "the opposite
scenario of the usual challenge to an employment or promotional examination, as plaintiffs attack not the use of allegedly racially discriminatory exam results, but defendants’ reason for
their refusal to use the results.  

Ultimately, the District Court said that Plaintiffs’ contention that "diversity" is a code word for reverse discrimination did not have merit.  The employer here was trying to do right by not using a test that had a disparate impact and the Court was unwilling to suggest that the employer’s decision was incorrect.  The factual circumstances, as I’ve said before, are much more complex than that and I encourage readers to review the entire decision.

Of course, the Plaintiffs appealed. The Second Circuit la500 pearl st, second circuitst week affirmed the decision in a brief per curiam decision (available here).  The Court noted that the CSB "found itself in the unfortunate position of having no good alternatives."  

And while the court said it was "unsympathetic to the plaintiffs’ expression of frustration", the Court said that CSB was "simply trying to fulfill its obligations under Title VII when confronted with test results that had a disproportionate racial impact".   As such, its actions were protected. 

End of story, right?

Well, not quite.  Later in the week, the Second Circuit considered, but ultimately rejected a rehearing "in banc" (meaning a decision in front of all of the Second Circuit judges, not just a three judge panel).  The Wait a Second Blog explains the procedural mess in further detail in a post here.  What is unusual is that the decisions either concurring or dissenting in the decision to rehear the case in banc are lengthy and reveal a deeply divided Second Circuit. 

Indeed, the dissent noted that the Second Circuit has done a disservice by not publishing a full opinion on the subject and instead hiding behind a short "per curiam" opinion.  Ultimately, the dissent views the issue as one of "great importance" and believes that full consideration by the Second Circuit — or at least a more detailed decision — is warranted.  Certainly, the next time this issue is before the Second Circuit, we can expect more fireworks depending on the panel makeup.

The Plaintiffs here have petitioned the Supreme Court to grant certiorari in this case. It certainly merits further watching.   I would expect a ruling from the Supreme Court on whether to grant certiorari in fall of 2008. 

For employers, this case demonstrates the problem that companies face all the time. Typically, a decision affecting one employee, will leave another unhappy.  And even when the employer is trying to do the "right" thing by complying with Title VII (even if there is political overtones) they still could face a lawsuit by a group of employees unhappy with the decision.  Strict compliance with the law and getting sound legal advice is the best strategy for avoiding the minefields that continue to exist in this area.

UPDATE: Point of Law was kind enough to pick up on the post and credit should be given to their initial post on the subject late last week (which I was just tipped off to).  There are also other blog posts on the subject here,  here and here as well. 

FURTHER UPDATE 6/17: Wait a Second has an update this afternoon about another dissenting opinion released today by Second Circuit Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs.  From a legal procedural perspective, it’s interesting to see the "catfight" going on at the Court of Appeals. But from employment law perspective, it doesn’t really affect the underlying decision.

Attorney John Williams is well-known in this state for his avid representation of various state workers — particularly state police officials — in discrimination matters.  Yesterday, he held a press conference to announce that he will be filing a class action lawsuit in a few weeks challenging the hiring procedures of the Connecticut State Police.

The Hartford Courant has the details in an article this morning:

Racism is so entrenched in the Connecticut State Police that basic hiring practices ensure only a few minority troopers will even enter a training class, never mind be promoted in the ranks, an attorney representing a black troopers’ coalition said Thursday.  …

Only candidates who score at least 85 out of 100 on a written test are chosen to continue training, even though the passing score is 65. That practice discriminates against members of minority groups, Williams said.

Public Safety Commissioner John A. Danaher III vehemently denied Williams’ accusations and defended the department’s hiring practices, saying they are fair and blind to race. He also said he has taken steps since becoming commissioner to recruit more members of minority groups, including reaching out to more colleges and forming a selections unit that is largely minority.

WTNH has this report on the subject, as does the AP.  Because the complaint hasn’t be filed yet, it is too early to tell the exact legal theories and arguments that will be used in the case, but it appears to be following a well-worn path of what are known as "disparate impact" cases.

So what is "disparate impact"? Well, when most of us hear of discrimination cases, they are known as "disparate treatment" cases, not "disparate impact" cases. These cases allege that someone intentionally discriminated against them because of a protected class (race, gender, etc.)

"Disparate Impact" cases are something different.  LawMemo has a nice little summary in its blog:

Disparate impact is the idea that some employer practices, as matter of statistics, have a greater impact on one group than on another.

A good example, taken from the first US Supreme Court Title VII case on the topic: When hiring laborers, the employer required applicants to have a high school diploma. The diploma requirement screened out vastly more blacks than it did whites. Therefore, there was a disparate impact based on race, even though there was no intentional discrimination.

The Supreme Court said that once the employees proved a significant disparate impact, the burden shifted to the employer to prove that the diploma requirement had "a manifest relationship to the employment in question."

Federal legislation enacted in 1991 says that if the employees prove that a practice causes a disparate impact, then the employer must demonstrate that the practice "is job related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity."

The allegations being raised by Attorney Williams are similar. He appears to be saying that the decision to screen applicants based on their score of a written test has a disparate impact on black applicants.  The EEOC has issued some guidance on employment tests that shed further light on the subject:

Moreover, as the EEOC notes, in 1978, the EEOC adopted the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures or “UGESP” under Title VII.  UGESP provided uniform guidance for employers about how to determine if their tests and selection procedures were lawful for purposes of Title VII disparate impact theory:

UGESP outlines three different ways employers can show that their employment tests and other selection criteria are job-related and consistent with business necessity. These methods of demonstrating job-relatedness are called “test validation.” UGESP provides detailed guidance about each method of test validation.  

In general, disparate impact cases are typically long drawn out cases that rely, in good measure on statistical analyses by experts.  They are costly and time-consuming affairs.  Thus, don’t expect a quick resolution to the claims raised in this new lawsuit.  Indeed, the State Police will likely spend lots of time arguing that the standards it uses are "job related" and "consistent with business necessity".   Who will prevail? Stay tuned….

Although I’ve touched on the issue of personality tests before here and here, I was recently interviewed in the December 2007 issue of Law Office Administrator (published by Ardmore Publishing) about some further specifics. 

In it, I highlight two important points that employers should consider before using them:

  1. Why Is the Test Being Used? and,
  2. Does the Test Exclude Certain Categories of People?

If you don’t know why you are using the test, the obvious followup is how can you possibly use the Test sign - courtesy Morgue Filetest effectively if you don’t know why you are using it.  Is it to screen out certain applicants? Is it to look for certain intangibles (like team building)?

In addition, you need to understand if the test affects certain classes of people differently. Some differences are okay (you’re trying to distinguish lazy employees from driven employees), but if the test results exclude categories of people in protected classes (older workers, for example), then they should not be used.

Personality tests have been around for a while. I would suggest that one reason why they haven’t become commonplace is that there are too many variables with them for many employers comfort.  If you do decide to use them, understand the risks ahead of time. 

My colleagues, Ana Salper and Rebecca Brandman, also wrote an article on the EEOC’s recent guidance on personality tests, which I covered a few weeks ago .  It’s worth a read. 

In one of my first  posts, I highlighted an article regarding the legality of personality tests.  In it, I noted that the EEOC had held a fact-finding session and was likely going to issue some further guidance.  Well, that day has arrived.
Testing - courtesy Morgue File
The EEOC issued a fact sheet on employment testing today, announced in this press release.  The fact sheet, which can be accessed here, contains all sorts of helpful information for employers, including a best practices approach and a primer on the applicable federal laws.  Suffice to say that some of the suggestions are fairly obvious, but here they are:

  • Employers should administer tests and other selection procedures without regard to race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age (40 or older), or disability.
  • Employers should ensure that employment tests and other selection procedures are properly validated for the positions and purposes for which they are used. The test or selection procedure must be job-related and its results appropriate for the employer’s purpose. While a test vendor’s documentation supporting the validity of a test may be helpful, the employer is still responsible for ensuring that its tests are valid under [applicable procedures].
  • If a selection procedure screens out a protected group, the employer should determine whether there is an equally effective alternative selection procedure that has less adverse impact and, if so, adopt the alternative procedure. For example, if the selection procedure is a test, the employer should determine whether another test would predict job performance but not disproportionately exclude the protected group.
  • To ensure that a test or selection procedure remains predictive of success in a job, employers should keep abreast of changes in job requirements and should update the test specifications or selection procedures accordingly.
  • Employers should ensure that tests and selection procedures are not adopted casually by managers who know little about these processes. A test or selection procedure can be an effective management tool, but no test or selection procedure should be implemented without an understanding of its effectiveness and limitations for the organization, its appropriateness for a specific job, and whether it can be appropriately administered and scored.

As I noted previously, Connecticut does not have any major caselaw on this topic. Moreover, courts here will typically mimic federal law anyways, so it is certainly a good idea to familiarize yourself with the topic and implement the best practices recommended by the EEOC for these types of tests. As the year comes to a close, it’s a good idea anyways to audit your personnel policies and procedures to ensure that they are compliant with current law.

The Connecticut Lawyer has an interesting article in the last month on the Legality of Personality Tests under the ADA. CBA CoverThe article, written by Connecticut Bar Association member Joshua Hawks-Ladds, "explores the ADA’s impact on personality testing in the workplace, and discusses what type of assessment tools will withstand ADA scrutiny and when these tools can lawfully be implemented." As Joshua notes, the ADA prohibits employers from "using tests or questionnaires that are meant to, or that incidentally, result in discrimination against disabled individuals."

What remains unanswered from the article (and outside its scope) is how prevalent testing really is, particularly in Connecticut. The article does not cite any Connecticut cases or Second Circuit cases.

An EEOC meeting on May 16, 2007, shows however that this is a topic of increasing interest. As noted in their press release:

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today held a public meeting to gather information and address emerging trends in workplace testing and selection procedures, as employers seek lawful and efficient ways to screen large numbers of applicants. Discriminatory employment tests and selection procedures violate EEOC-enforced federal laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

“Today employers commonly use a range of employment tests and other screening tools to make hiring, promotion, termination or other employment decisions,” said EEOC Chair Naomi C. Earp. “With the growth of technology, buttressed by post-9/11 security concerns, it is important that employers review their applicant selection procedures to ensure they are non-discriminatory.”

If employees and employers are looking for topics that have yet to be fully litigated or explored, the use of personality tests seems ripe for consideration.