Sexist Fitness Exams

In Colorado Springs, CO, twelve female police officers recently sued their department for what they claimed were discriminatory and sexist fitness tests. As a result of the successful suit, they will not face discipline for their failure to complete the tests.
The exam in question requires 45 sit-ups in two minutes, 52 push-ups in two minutes, 45 sit-ups in two minutes and two running tests. The inability to finish a single part of the test results in a failure of the test overall.
New standards for the fitness test were implemented in 2014, and of the 628 officers who took the test, 25 failed– including the 12 women who took the department to court.
If one fails, the consequences include the removal of one’s uniform and the suspension of desk-work for six months. The department defends it’s new, rigorous exam explaining its aim at maintaining fitness and health within the department.
Ian Kalmanowitz, the lawyer representing the twelve women, said the administration at the department knew that the test would unfairly target women over 40 years old, and that the administration met with consultants to design the test. He argues it is no accident that these women were unable to complete the test.
Kalmanowitz argued that the consequences of failure were punitive and had a hidden agenda of creating a younger, more masculine force. The motion filed argues that the test was originally created to encourage a “culture of fitness” and to reduce risk of injury in the field– not to fire or discipline officers for failing. Kalmanowitz argues that the test “doesn’t have anything to do with the ability to perform the duties of the job.”
In fact, it wasn’t until after several rounds of the new tests that the officers began to receive discipline for not passing the test. Cumulative punishments included being unable to receive raises or get paid for overtime.
To many, it appears that the department had ulterior motives for the test rather than to maintain an active and fit force. The case was held up in court and those who gave their lives to the force were allowed to keep their uniform and their job.
This suit isn’t about the inability of women to compete in traditionally masculine workforces. After all, women in all types of physical labor have made their mark.
Just this year two women became the first female Army Rangers in history.  After enduring a 62-day training boot camp they received their honors alongside 94 other men.
The requirements to become a Ranger are truly unbelievable. They include 35-mile hikes, lack of access to drinking water, carrying a 35-pound backpack at all times– all in different sorts of rugged terrains. The phases of training take place in several different states that pose all sorts of new challenges.
They have to run five miles in 40 minutes, perform helicopter assaults, climb mountains, and take swimming exams. They often have to carry their own weight– all situations they will encounter while serving their country.
Only about a third of those who begin the training end up graduating as a Ranger. Officials repeatedly state that the standards for graduating the program do not change for women or men.
There are also female Hotshots. Being a Hotshot is one of the most physically demanding jobs in the country. A hot shot is an elite firefighter who lives in the forest for months at a time, sometimes spending over 24 hours fighting a single fire without a wink of sleep. Mary Pauline Lowry was one of them.
She went weeks without showers, slept very little, and always had to carry a 40-pound pack on her back. She was one of three women on a 20-person crew.
The physical demands were intense, according to Lowry. She constantly had blisters on her hands from hacking down trees and came in close contact with death more times than she could count. She proved that grit and strength knows no gender by meeting the requirements of one of the most elite fire fighting teams in the world.
After reading about the Colorado lawsuit, I talked to an anonymous source who is a police officer in a Texas department. When I asked the source if they thought that the tests in their department were gender biased, they responded that their own department procedure “is not gender specific,” and instead are “based on tasks that are job specific.”
The tasks include wall climbing, window entry, dragging human-weight dummies, and quick sprints—something that, the source argues, every person in the field should be able to complete.
“Everyone should carry the same weight or task,” the source argues.
This is the same sentiment shared with those who are administrators of Hotshots and Rangers. All employees must be held to the same physical standards, and should be trusted to be able to complete the same task (relevant to their job) that their partner could complete– regardless of gender.
The source admits that their department is only a “one-time” testing department. That is, an applicant only has to pass a single test to be hired and is not required to take the test again. The source argues that this is insufficient and that there needs to be a way to “maintain that level [of fitness] throughout our careers.”
Indeed, our police force should be physically fit to the extent that their job demands. There is a need for local police forces to partake in frequent and consistent fitness trials.
However, there should be strict policies at keeping their relevance to the job at hand. Fifty-two push-ups in two minutes has little to do with an officer’s ability to de-escalate high-stress situations or respond to domestic violence calls.
The true value in consistent examination should be focused in simulating real-life events and having officers respond to true demands in order to ultimately keep citizens safe.
Feature photo courtesy of Flickr user Matt Hecht.