The Justice Department sued the city of Corpus Christi on Tuesday, alleging the Police Department discriminated in hiring women by using a physical ability test few female applicants have been able to pass.
Federal prosecutors say only about one in five women who took the test between 2005 and 2009 passed it, compared with about two-thirds of the men. The last two years the pass rates for men and women increased due to a change in the cutoff scores, but the gap between men and women persisted.
“This complaint demonstrates that employment practices that unnecessarily exclude qualified candidates on account of sex are unacceptable,” Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “The Justice Department is looking forward to working with the city to resolve this matter in a way that eliminates the use of the unlawful physical ability test and gives women who were screened out of the process an opportunity to become Corpus Christi police officers.”
The city said it has been working with the Justice Department on the issue for months.
“We knew this was coming,” Troy Riggs, assistant city manager over public safety and health said. “We do not disagree with their major findings.”
The complaint filed in federal court in Corpus Christi says the department hired 12 female entry-level officers and 113 males from 2005 to 2011.
Riggs, who served as police chief from late 2009 to 2011, said the Justice Department investigation began shortly after he brought the disparity to the attention of city leaders. He tried unsuccessfully to put the brakes on the department’s 2009 recruiting class when he noticed it was composed of 15 men and no women. Only about 7 percent of the police force was female at that time and many of those officers had years of seniority and would be eligible for retirement soon, he said.
The problem seemed to begin in 2005, when the human resources department changed the physical ability testing, he said. Due to budget concerns there was no new class of officers in 2010, but the 2011 class included 15 men and three women, which Riggs said was above the national average in terms of gender balance.
Riggs said new leadership in the city and Police Department continued to implement changes and was prepared to continue working with the Justice Department to development an acceptable testing program. One change has placed the police in charge of their own hiring whereas before the city’s human resources handled the written and physical testing prior.