Lawsuit: Knowledge of English, thinking not required for police

Quick multiple choice question: you call the police to report an emergency. Several officers respond. Who do you want supervising these officers?

  1. Smart police officers
  2. Police officers who speak English
  3. Police officers who can choose the right strategy from multiple possibilities
  4. All of the above

Tricked you! The question can’t be answered, because police supervisors shouldn’t have to answer multiple choice questions at all:

Five police officers from Lawrence and Methuen filed a federal civil rights lawsuit yesterday against the two cities and the state, contending that the state promotional exam discriminates against members of minority groups and has prevented their advancement within the ranks.


They say the multiple-choice format of the test, not the content of the questions, has blocked the rise of minorities, many of whom grew up speaking a different language. They want the state to devise a promotion system that would better reflect the skills used by a police supervisor, instead of how well they answer multiple-choice questions.

Welcome to the world of “disparate impact” litigation, where you don’t have to demonstrate any racism to charge racial discrimination. All you have to do is claim that some groups get promoted less frequently than others, and point out that the employer can’t really prove that his standards are necessary for the job. You know, like speaking English…

“I think this exam is really outdated,” said Cano, who scored a 78 in 2006. “For me, a person whose native language is Spanish, it’s a challenge. The questions are extremely complicated.”

…or dealing with “complicated” situations. The complaints don’t even have to make sense:

Kevin Sledge, 45, a patrolman in Lawrence for 14 years, said the test favors those who have more practice taking written exams. He took the exam last year for the first time, scoring a 76, but was passed over for others who scored higher.

“Some people are more practical and verbal, and those are important skills to be a police supervisor,” he said.

Whereas multiple choice questions don’t test either practical or verbal skills? Well, I guess if you see an emergency, you can just call a lawyer instead. (H/T John Rosenberg)

(Past Overlawyered fun with civil service exams: Mar. 2005, Apr. 2006, Jan 2007, Aug. 1, others.)


  • Since when is an employer making dumb (but not biased) personel decisions a constitutional violation?

    We all have to jump through hoops some times. If the hoop is a written test, well then damnit learn how to take a test.

  • Isn’t it racist to say that blacks or hispanics are, as a group, incapable of taking multiple-choice tests?

  • “…point out that the employer can’t really prove that his standards are necessary for the job…”

    Hey, it’s kind of like the LSAT!