Four current and former Massachusetts State Police troopers have sued the Massachusetts State Police for allegedly engaging in a pattern of discrimination against women and minorities. The four named plaintiffs are three women and one black man. Their lawsuit alleges that the Massachusetts State Police discriminates against women and minorities through its promotional and assignment practices. The attorneys representing the troopers have identified other similarly situated troopers who have also faced discrimination, indicating a possible intent to pursue a class action.
One of the discriminatory practices identified involves alleged word-of-mouth advertising of promotional opportunities. The plaintiffs claim that the Massachusetts State Police does not publicly post openings for many high-ranking and better-paying jobs. Instead, they claim, the opportunities are not advertised at all or, if they are, they are only advertised for a very short time. They claim that this practice results in white men getting favorable treatment.
Word-of-mouth recruitment practices in organizations that lack diversity often have a disparate impact on minority groups within the organization. If, for example, an organization is comprised overwhelmingly of white men (a “good ole boys’ network”), the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has warned that word-of-mouth recruitment can disproportionately weed out women and minorities. Studies show that word-of-mouth recruitment results in disparate impact against minority groups in workplaces that lack diversity because of “segregated networks” of communication, meaning that members of the majority group tend to communicate among themselves more than with minority groups.
Another practice that has allegedly resulted in a disparate impact against female troopers with the Massachusetts State Police is a policy that grants military veterans with bonus points on promotional exams. Like most police departments, the Massachusetts State Police requires promotional candidates to take exams and uses the scores on those exams to select candidates for the open positions. Military veterans, as a group, have fewer women than the general population. As a result, women are less likely to receive these bonus points than men and the bonus points, thus, can contribute to a lack of diversity in the higher ranks in the Massachusetts State Police.
The Massachusetts State Police has denied that it has discriminated against anyone and believes that this lawsuit lacks merit. It will be interesting to see how this case unfolds.