Appeals Court Throws Out Psych Test Use in Promotions

June 30, 2005 ( - A federal appeals court has ruled that a home furnishings rental company violated a federal anti-discrimination law when it administered a psychological test to applicants for promotional positions.

>The US 7 th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the use of a version of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), a psychological test, amounted to a prohibited “medical examination” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

>Appeals judges issued the ruling in a case involving three brothers who were rejected for promotions by Rent-A-Center because of their scores on the APT Management Trainee-Executive Profile, a series of nine tests designed to measure math, language skills, interests, and personality traits. The test contains 502 MMPI questions, according to the court.

>The ruling said the company eliminated from further consideration anyone who scored with more than 12 “weighted deviations” – as did Steven, Michael, and Christopher Karraker.

The Karrakers  sued on behalf of the employees at 106 Illinois Rent-A-Center stores, arguing that the use of one component of the APT violated the ADA. The case ultimately centered on whether the MMPI test was actually a “medical examination” that is barred by the ADA until after the employer extends a conditional job offer to the applicant, according to the court.

>In addition, when employees apply for a new job within a company, employers cannot require a medical examination before making the individual a conditional offer of the new position, according to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC said that, in general, psychological tests designed to identify a mental disorder or impairment qualify as medical examinations, but psychological tests that measure personality traits such as honesty, preferences, and habits do not, the court said.

>The appeals court said the MMPI test did more than measure personality traits.

“But the MMPI does not simply measure such potentially relevant traits as whether someone works well in groups or is comfortable in a fast-paced office,” the 7 th Circuit panel said. “Instead, the MMPI considers where an applicant falls on scales measuring traits such as depression, hypochondriasis, hysteria, paranoia, and mania. In fact, elevated scores on certain scales of the MMPI can be used in diagnoses of certain psychiatric disorders.”

>The opinion in Karraker v. Rent-A-Center, Inc  is  here .