In 1997, the Law Center filed suit on behalf of a class of women who had unsuccessfully applied to become SEPTA transit police, challenging SEPTA’s use of a running test that resulted in the nearly total exclusion of women from the force. The test SEPTA used was more restrictive than that used by any other municipal or transit police force in the country – not to mention the US Army, FBI and DEA.
The case went to trial in District Court in 1998. The Court agreed with SEPTA that the strenuous running test was a business necessity, and that its disparate impact on women was therefore legal. On appeal, however, the Third Circuit ruled that the District Court had used an incorrect standard: the requirement in the test for employment must measure the minimum standard required to competently serve.
In fact, the test measured no such thing. Some officers already serving failed the running test when it was implemented then went on to win awards, commendations, and promotions. In fact, one woman who was apparently hired accidentally after failing the test was repeatedly nominated for an Officer of the Year award and was even chosen to train other officers in police tactics.
Unfortunately, the District Court again found the test valid on remand, and the Third Circuit upheld the lower Court’s decision.