Woman Says Employment Test Was Biased

Discussion
Oct 03, 2012

Several months back, a friend who is employed as an executive for a top 10 retail chain and I were sharing stories about our kids’ efforts to land part-time jobs.

At one point, I asked if she couldn’t get her kid a job working at one of the chain’s stores. She told me that all prospective employees were required to go through a screening process that determined who was brought in for an interview and who was not. Her kid never got a call back for an interview.

"Good thing I’m not looking for a job here," she said at the time. "I don’t think I’d pass the test either."

The reason for sharing this personal anecdote is in reference to a recent Wall Street Journal story about Vicky Sandy, a hearing and speech impaired woman in West Virginia, who brought a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Kroger after scoring low on a personality test administered as part of the chain’s screening process.

Tests such as the one used by Kroger in this case are legal, as long as they are not set to intentionally discriminate against applicants based on EEOC criteria. Very few complaints, only 164 out of 100,000 fielded by the EEOC last year, have been tied to these types of tests.

Condon McGlothlen, an employment lawyer at Seyfarth Shaw LLP, told the Journal that complaints are so low, in part, because few prospects see their test results.

Are you for or against the use of computerized pre-employment tests? What changes would you make to improve the employment screening process at retail?

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12 Comments on "Woman Says Employment Test Was Biased"


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David Livingston
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

I wouldn’t make any changes. I have one client and his pre-employment screen is just to look at applicants with a hidden security camera filling out their application. He learns about 90% of what he needs or wants to know doing that.

Employers should have a right to freely discriminate for whatever reason or no reason. Hiring a person is like having a guest in your home or choosing someone to date. Since Kroger has been around for a long time and is such a big company (and rather successful), I will trust their good judgment on using such tests.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

If retailers were more involved with local colleges and universities and offered internships, they would have a much better way of determining a potential employee’s fit than a personality test. Personality tests capture a person’s responses at one point in time, so should be used as only one piece of evidence in combination with several other pieces of data.

Ben Ball
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

Ah, once again Murphy and the law of unintended consequence combine to create, well — unintended consequences.

In order to protect themselves from accusations of hiring bias, companies increasingly turn to “approved” testing and other objective measures. Subjective opinion — or anything else that might be construed as bias in a court room — are minimized in the hiring process.

So a person the company might want to hire because they really believe they would be a good employee, or maybe just because they want to give somebody a chance, doesn’t make it through the screening. If the company makes an exception, they blow a hole in their boilerplate legal defense of using the test.

The underlying problem here is Murphy on steroids. We have allowed our country to become so litigious in the honest pursuit of fairness that we are paralyzing ourselves. Unintended consequence runs amok.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

The standardized tests were put into place to remove unfairness from the screening process. The intent was to insure that every applicant got a fair chance to be hired by removing any bias that the initial interviewer might have. Retailers had found that in too many cases, good candidates were removed from the hiring pool because the interviewer saw or heard something he didn’t like during the screening process.

I agree with Ben. Companies can’t make an exception because then they defeat the very defense they sought to avoid: being accused of bias.

Ian Percy
Guest
9 years 7 months ago
First a shout out to Camille for her comment about the internship approach. Right on target. Any of us who’ve had to create and verify testing instruments in graduate school know there is no such thing as objectivity. As has been long proven even the act of observing influences the outcome. ALL selection tests are biased and typically based on US cultural norms. If an applicant has a point of differentiation like the woman in the story or even a candidate educated in another country the test could well work against them. My other peeve is this thing being called “personality.” Exactly what is a “personality test?” I’m an organizational psychologist and I don’t know. Can you fail “personality?” Would TV’s fictional Dr. House have failed a personality test when he was interviewed at the Princeton-Plainsboro Hospital? It’s about “fit” isn’t it? And to have ‘fit’ we need to match the fitter and the fittee. My sense is very few organizations have a full understanding of their own culture and what fits and what doesn’t.… Read more »
Kate Blake
Guest
Kate Blake
9 years 7 months ago

I had a prospective employee pass the computerized test and the background test that we later hired and found out was bi-polar and quite disturbed. Interestingly, that didn’t show up in the test.

Roger Saunders
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

Retailers, like all employers, are seeking skill sets from associates that support job requirements for maximum productivity. Those skill sets may be “human,” “technical,” or “conceptual” in nature.

Having effective pre-employment tests for qualification standards are very effective. They can help eliminate interviewer bias, or the lack of interviewing experience that the company may lack; that’s a benefit to company and candidate, alike.

In like fashion, post-employment testing can aid in the development of associates. Let’s hope that the EEOC doesn’t overstep bounds by declaring that all such testing is discriminatory.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
9 years 7 months ago
Kudos to Ian! Somewhere we seemed to have swallowed a pill that makes us think the “best” people for an organization are just like all the other people the organization already employs. Deviants? Innovators? Hard chargers? People that notice that not only is the emperor buck naked, (as we say in Detroit,) but not exceedingly well endowed? No need to apply! What hogwash. Diversity … yes …. shudder …even of personality … is a good thing. I remember working on the global repositioning of a Fortune 500 company. As part of the exercise the executive team had established new recruiting and hiring standards limited to graduates of the MBA programs at the usual suspects — Wharton, Harvard, Stanford, etc. “How many of you attended these schools,” I asked. The answer was none. In other words, based on the standards they had just set the entire executive team would never have been hired in the first place! Ben is also right. We try to be fair and sometimes in the process of engineering fairness we engineer… Read more »
Lee Peterson
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

Computerized tests only work if you also have human contact. So, as a pre-lim or set up, they’re okay, but the ‘must have’ is the human part regardless of the test results.

FWIW, I disdain these kinds of tests for several reasons. They’re lazy, in-human, in-accurate and for the most part, get HR to focus on the wrong things. I’d be for doing away with them all together.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
9 years 7 months ago

Pre-employment tests are used to ensure that prospective employees can perform on the job. As no one identified the job in question, I don’t see how any comments can be justified. I would expect that Kroger has set minimum standards for communication and safety. If one cannot hear, they cannot be assigned to a workplace that uses sound to make people aware of danger. If a job requires customer service then clear communication would seem to be a requirement, then Ms. Sandy might not be a fit. I feel that Ms. Sandy should contact Vocational Rehabilitation and work toward finding a safe job in her area where her skills can be utilized. Be aware that charges like these require Kroger to expend funds to answer the charges and defend their practices which raises the price of groceries for all of us!

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

How could we improve on this — for example get to 163 per 100,000 complaints ??? Ummm…. I agree with the people who say this is probably as good as it gets; and it’s certainly an improvement over having your prospective employee pool be the exec’s children (no offense to George’s friend).

Mel Kleiman
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

I don’t know if anyone goes back and reads old posts. But if you do and read to the bottom of the page, I hope you find the following comments of value.

1. What is a test? The government says everything you do in the hiring process is a test.
2. All a test is, is another interview of a candidate. It is a way of asking a lot of question in an organized manner, evaluating them in a systematized manner and comparing them to other people answers.
3. Tests fall in a number of different areas and should be looked at differently. Skills, Attitudes, Personality, Mental, and Physical.

4. Some should be pass or fail, others need to be weighted.

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