Walmart and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) agreed to settle a nationwide sex-discrimination complaint for $20 million.
The EEOC filed the lawsuit on behalf of female applicants who applied for order-filling roles at Walmart’s grocery distribution centers. The agency alleged that Walmart violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by using a physical abilities test that had a disparate impact on female applicants.
Walmart denied any wrongdoing, though the retail giant agreed to stop using the physical abilities test and provide training to employees who hire, manage or supervise grocery order fillers.
“We are glad we could reach an amicable solution,” said Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove. “We do not tolerate discrimination, and we’re a great place for women to work.” He said the company introduced the physical abilities test in 2010 based in part on the recommendation of the EEOC. “The test was created and validated by third-party experts and designed to determine if applicants for the order filler position could perform the job requirements,” he said.
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About 12,000 women could be eligible for payment under the agreement. Employees in the order-filler roles at issue remove cases of grocery items from shelves and stack them onto pallet jacks, which are then wrapped and loaded on trucks for delivery to Walmart retail locations. The role generally requires workers to lift up to 80 pounds.
Under the agreement with the EEOC, Walmart will be required to keep electronic or written records for two years of sex-discrimination complaints received by its ethics unit that involve hiring for order-filler positions at its U.S. distribution centers.
“We continue to believe that the test was nondiscriminatory, however we have agreed to discontinue it, which is consistent with the company’s efforts to accelerate and streamline the hiring process across the business,” according to a Walmart statement.
What Is Disparate Impact?
Title VII prohibits both intentional and unintentional discrimination based on color, national origin, race, religion and sex. Intentional discrimination based on these characteristics is called disparate treatment. Title VII also prohibits disparate-impact discrimination, which the EEOC describes as using “neutral tests or selection procedures that have the effect of disproportionately excluding persons based on [protected characteristics] where the tests or selection procedures are not job-related and consistent with business necessity.”
Your Hiring Assessments Could Get You in Trouble
Hiring assessments can be a slippery slope for employers, especially when they rule out protected employees and create disparate impact. Assessments can play an important role in offering evidence that a candidate has the potential to be effective in a specific role. It’s important, though, for HR leaders and hiring managers to be aware of the potential for risk, and to use these assessments only when they are confident—and can demonstrate—that the tests actually measure competencies associated with performing the requirements of the job.
Try These Strategies to Reduce Implicit Bias in Your Workplace
We all have bias; it’s a human condition. But HR professionals and their organizations can mitigate the effects of implicit bias, beginning with the employer’s recruiting and hiring process and continuing through the employee’s growth within the organization, according to Eric Ellis, president and CEO of Integrity Development Corp. in Cincinnati, a member of SHRM’s Diversity & Inclusion Special Expertise Panel, and a subject matter expert for SHRM’s Inclusive Workplace Culture specialty credential for HR professionals.