When can a well-intended policy turn out to be illegal?

Sexism in the workplace isn't always as obvious as we think. Sometimes a discriminatory practice can present itself as the result of a well-intended policy or mandate by your employer. Take this recent Colorado case as an example.

In 2009, former Colorado Springs, Colorado police Chief Richard Myers ordered all officers to undergo fitness tests, which included sit-ups, push-ups and running. In the years that followed, women overwhelmingly failed the test more often than men, yet all officers were required to pass it annually. Those who didn't were first relegated to desk duty and then fired within 6 months if they still couldn't pass.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch ruled that the Colorado Springs Police Department violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by favoring men's performance over women's and making it a condition of employment. Some women's failure rates were as high as 40%, while men's failure rates remained around 9%.

The judge noted that the test served to "shame" and "ostracize" the women who performed poorly, putting them at risk for losing their jobs. He also noted that the exercises on the test were not true to the everyday work of being police officers, which added to the degree to which they were deemed unfair and discriminatory.

If you suspect that your own workplace performance is being unfairly judged, you should consult with an employment attorney skilled in the area of civil rights and discrimination. You have a right to be judged fairly, and no employer can take that away from you.

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