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Pennsylvania state police plan to fight U.S. discrimination suit

By David DeKok

HARRISBURG Pa. (Reuters) - The commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police vowed on Wednesday to fight a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice contending that the physical fitness tests required of prospective state troopers discriminate against women.

The federal lawsuit, filed on Tuesday, took aim at the fact that just 72 percent of female applicants pass the physical test to enter the cadet training program, well below the 98 percent of men who pass the same test.

"We should not be bullied into lowering our standards by the DOJ or anyone else," said Colonel Frank Noonan, who said lower standards could endanger the public. "We are not going to do it. They are completely wrong."

The test requires applicants to complete physical tests including 13 push-ups with straight back and legs, jumping 14 inches into the air and running 300 yards in 77 seconds or less. The standards were developed in 2003 by a consultant whom Noonan declined to name.

The Justice Department suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg, seeks a court order to have the test stopped, and to provide back pay, hiring offers and retroactive seniority for women who were discriminated against.

Speaking to reporters at the Pennsylvania State Police Academy in Hershey, Noonan said he did not know which part of the standards were toughest for women to meet.

Troopers who graduate from the academy's six-month training program, go directly on solo patrols and are often 20 to 30 miles from any backup, he noted.

"You might come across a vehicle on fire and you have to pull someone from the burning car," Noonan said.

Sergeant Linette Quinn, who joined Noonan at the news conference, said she did not support lower physical fitness tests for women.

"Those of us who are on the job have met those standards," she said.

The Pennsylvania State Police have approximately 4,000 troopers, of whom 5 percent are women. Noonan said the department is trying to recruit more women and minorities.

(Reporting by David DeKok; Editing by Scott Malone and Eric Beech)

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