Feds sue Pennsylvania state troopers over alleged sex discrimination
[Image via Penn State, Creative Commons-licensed]

(Reuters) - The federal government sued Pennsylvania and its state police force on Tuesday, alleging that physical fitness tests required of prospective state troopers discriminated against women, court documents showed.

The suit, filed by the U.S. Department of Justice in federal court in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, said the tests evaluated skills state troopers did not need to perform their jobs and kept dozens of otherwise qualified women from being hired.

The Pennsylvania State Police began mandating the tests for prospective entry-level state troopers in 2003, measuring how well applicants could complete various physical tasks like a 300-metre (330-yard) run and pushups.

Well over 90 percent of men were able to complete the test in the following years, whereas only some 70 percent of women passed, the complaint said. That disparity kept roughly 45 women from being hired as troopers, according to the complaint.

The department is seeking a court order to have the test stopped, and to provide back pay, hiring offers and retroactive seniority for women whom the test discriminated against, the department said in a statement.

"The Department of Justice is deeply committed to eliminating artificial barriers that keep qualified women out of public safety work," said the acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, Jocelyn Samuels, in a statement.

A spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Governor's Office said state lawyers were reviewing the suit.

The Pennsylvania State Police force is made up of over 4,600 sworn members, with a civilian support staff of over 1,600, according to its website.

In 2012, the Justice Department sued the city of Corpus Christi, Texas, alleging similar sexual discrimination claims against its police force. The city agreed last May to pay $700,000 in back pay to female applicants and to replace its fitness test, the department said.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney)

[Image via Penn State, Creative Commons-licensed]