An Illinois man, who was training to become a special agent with the FBI, sued the FBI for gender discrimination after failing the physical fitness portion of the special agent test. Women taking the test were required to complete 14 pushups while men were required to do 30. The agent who sued only did 29 and was denied special agent status. He was told he could take another position within the agency, resign, or be fired.
He chose to take the alternate position within the FBI, working in Chicago as an analyst. A few years later, he sued, looking to regain agent status. He claimed he was essentially fired based because of the discriminatory physical fitness test. Apparently, he had done really well in all other aspects of his training and was well respected among others in the program. That one push up kept him from the career he wanted.
The Federal judge agreed with the man, ruling that the fitness test violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The judge did say that his ruling does not mean that standards can’t ever differ based on sex. Many agree that the physiological differences between men and women should be taken into consideration, and many times they are, without violating the Civil Rights Act.
What makes different standards legal is when they have a rational basis. The trainee claimed that the difference (in push ups required) was arbitrary and not based on actual data. He also claims that a fellow trainee, a woman, was allowed a second try at her push-up test and he was not. I couldn’t find an explanation as to why he couldn’t eek out one more pushup. 30 doesn’t seem like a crazy hard number, but what do I know.
It’s an interesting case because it’s more common to see female plaintiffs in gender discrimination cases. But the law is the same either way. What employers need to be aware of is that you can’t just say men and women are different so it’s ok. You have to have a solid reason for treating them differently.
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