Civil Service Tests In Santa Barbara
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In response to my post Court Allows Civil Service Tests To Be Thrown Out If Not Enough Minorities Pass about a Second Circuit decision [PDF] discussed here, writer Linda Thom writes:
I worked for many years for Santa Barbara County.  For some of those years, I worked in Human Resources and I developed tests for many job classes, including firefighters.  Santa Barbara County has one of the largest fire departments in the state.

There are all sorts of ways to avoid problems with disparate impact with some creativity.  For example, SB County set up  "top ten" lists instead of the top three by amending the Civil Service rules.

I wrote the rule change and took it through the administrative process necessary for passage.  That happened almost 30 years ago.  Further, written tests are not the best predictors of candidate success.  Firefighters have strong bodies and are usually just high school grads. The averaged test scores of written and physical agility tests were used, not just a written.

To limit the applicant pool, we sent notices to places that would be likely to be viewed by minority applicants.  We did this just prior to opening the recruitment.  We opened the recruitment for one week and didn't advertise.  We didn't tell current firefighters (who were overwhelmingly white) when the recruitment would open so they couldn't tell their buddies.  We didn't want lots of people to know because there would be hundreds (900) applicants and only about twenty vacancies in a year.

For administrative and fiscal reasons, we did not want hundreds and hundreds of applicants.  Moreover, targeted recruitment was very, very important to increase the number of minority applicants realtive to the white applicants.

The physical agility test had disparate impacts on Hispanics and Asians who were physically smaller.  Again, we revised the test.  We were having bad results because it was the strongest who got the best scores and firefighters need to be healthy and strong but they don't need to be weight lifters.

The county fights lots of wildland fires and they have few tall buildings.  In addition, endurance is a big plus for such jobs as clearing brush to build perimeters around forest fires. Women score very well on endurance and they make great firecrews for these activities.

On our physical agility test had a timed hose-drag, a timed, raise the ladder, a timed, drag the dead-weight dummy.  I might add that just about all the women failed this test but and this is important:  If you weigh 120 lbs and want to be a firefighter, you are going to fail the test, dudette.  If you want to play the role of Cleopatra on Broadway, you are going to fail the test, dude.

Healthy, strong,  average-intelligence people make the best candidates for the job.  It also helps if they are social as they have to live with other firefighters for days at a time. They are a team and they must be team players. Oral interviews are also a good way to level the playing field and they help to find people who are personable. Healthy, strong, social males can almost all pass the test and be capable firefighters.  Most females and many Asian males should find other professions.

Please believe me.  I developed hundreds of tests. The top three on the list are not necessarily the best for the job and that includes jobs other than firefighters.   So, about the court case, I blame the defendant employer.   Bad facts make bad law. They deserve to have their lists thrown out and to have a boot to their booties.

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