Women Rejected for Jobs at Armour Sausage Plant Because of ‘Strength Test’
DES MOINES, Iowa – A federal appeals court has upheld a lower court’s decision that a pre-employment “strength test” discriminated against female applicants for jobs at the Dial Corporation’s Armour Star sausage-making plant in Fort Madison, Iowa. The decision also affirmed the award of approximately $3.3 million to 52 rejected female job applicants. The case arose from a lawsuit by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of the discrimination victims.
The unanimous decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in Case Nos. 05-4183 and 05-4311, authored by Judge Diana E. Murphy and issued on November 17, approved the findings of U.S. District Judge Ronald E. Longstaff that the test had a disparate impact against women. The decision also upheld a jury’s finding that after the second year, continued use of the test amounted to intentional discrimination against women.
The seven-minute test required the applicant to carry 35-pound weights back and forth, lifting them to heights of 35 and 65 inches. More than 95% of male applicants passed the test, but fewer than 40% of female applicants passed it. Prior to January 2000, when the test was implemented, approximately half of newly hired workers in the plant were women.
The court also found that although the test resembled the job in some respects, it was in fact more difficult than the job, and that Dial had not shown that test achieved its stated purpose of reducing injuries.
“We are extremely happy with the successful resolution of this case,” said Associate Regional Attorney Jean P. Kamp of the EEOC’s Chicago District Office, who, with Senior Trial Attorneys Brian Tyndall and Deborah Powers of the Milwaukee Area Office, tried the case in August 2004. “Fifty-three women were deprived of high-paying jobs based on stereotypes that women are more likely to be injured, when, in fact, these applicants were all qualified to perform work requiring heavy lifting. The fact that many women are not strong enough to perform the work at Dial cannot be allowed to disqualify the number of women who can.”
Regional Attorney John C. Hendrickson of the EEOC’s Chicago District Office, which is responsible for EEOC litigation in Iowa, as well as in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, added, “This case is an example of the EEOC’s current focus on systemic cases. Pre-employment tests that screen out women or minorities will be closely examined by this agency.”
Paula Liles, of Fort Madison, Iowa filed the original discrimination charge on which the EEOC’s lawsuit was based. Liles and a number of the other class members were hired by Dial following the district court ruling and are currently employed by Dial’s successor at the plant, Pinnacle Corporation.
The Eighth Circuit decision also affirmed the district court’s award of back pay and the cost of health care premiums for 52 of the 53 class members. It reversed the lower court’s denial of back pay to one of the class members, and remanded her case for additional relief proceedings.
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing the nation’s laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on race, color, gender (including sexual harassment and pregnancy), religion, national origin, age, disability and retaliation. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.