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DOJ: Baltimore County’s old police exam was discriminatory

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said Tuesday that the county had stopped using the test in question, though it continues to deny liability for the actions of prior administrations. He took office in December. (File)

Baltimore
County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said Tuesday that the county had stopped using the test in question, though it continues to deny liability for the actions of prior administrations. He took office in December. (File)

The U.S. Department of Justice filed an employment discrimination suit against Baltimore County on Tuesday, alleging the county police department uses a screening tool that disproportionately excluded African American applicants.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, claims the department’s practices violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and seeks a court order requiring the department to use procedures that comply with the law and provide remedies to previously rejected applicants.

County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said Tuesday that the county had stopped using the test in question, though it continues to deny liability for the actions of prior administrations. He took office in December.

“A law enforcement agency should look like the community it serves,” Olszewski said in a statement. “As I have said repeatedly since taking office, I am committed to increasing diversity in the county’s police department.”

The exam cited in the complaint was required for entry-level and police cadet positions with the Baltimore County Police Department. It was multiple choice and a minimum score was required to advance in the hiring process. Since Jan. 1, 2013, the county has used at least three different versions of the test, and African American applicants passed at a lower rate than white applicants at a “statistically significant” rate on each version.

Though the test was used as a “pass/fail screening device,” the complaint alleges it was not job-related for the positions or necessary. The exams tested for skills like reading comprehension, vocabulary, spelling, grammar, logical ordering and interpretation of data.

“As a result of its use of these written examinations, Baltimore County has hired fewer African American applicants as BCPD entry-level police officers and police cadets since January 1, 2013 than it would have had it used a nondiscriminatory screening device,” the lawsuit alleges.

The Justice Department investigated the county’s practices and concluded the exam constitutes a pattern or practice of discrimination.

“Employers must be mindful that an employment selection device, like a test, must be shown to be job-related if it disproportionately excludes members of one of Title VII’s protected groups,” Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement.

Olszewski said the county is willing to negotiate with the Judice Department to resolve the matter.
The lawsuit seeks an order prohibiting the county from using written examinations that result in a disparate impact on African American applicants and are not job related as well as provide remedial relief to impacted individuals.

The case is United States of America v. Baltimore County, Maryland, 1:19-cv-02465.


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