In a case closely watched by privacy rights advocates, Target Stores agreed Friday to pay an estimated $2 million to settle a suit launched by a job applicant who was angered by questions about his sexual orientation and personal beliefs.
The settlement in the California class-action suit was declared by the plaintiffs’ attorneys an important victory that will stop Target and many other employers from using intrusive psychological tests to screen job candidates. But the settlement disappointed legal experts who want the courts to rule on the legality of such pre-employment tests, and Target denied that any precedent was set.
The suit was brought in 1989 by Sibi Soroka, 28, a candidate for a security guard job at a Target outlet in the Northern California community of Walnut Creek. He was required to take a true-false test asking him to respond to 704 statements, including: “I am very strongly attracted by members of my own sex"; “I have never indulged in unusual sex practices"; “I have had no difficulty starting or holding my urine,” and “I feel sure there is only one true religion.”
In October, 1991, the California Court of Appeal barred Target from continuing to require the test for job applicants. The court found that the test violated the right to privacy, as well as labor law barring discrimination against gays.
But the state Supreme Court set aside the appellate ruling in January, 1992, and said it would review the decision. Since then, the case has remained in legal limbo, awaiting action by the high court.
Under Friday’s settlement, a $1.3-million fund will be set up for Californians who applied for security guard jobs at Target from 1987 to 1991 and took what is known as the Rodgers Condensed CPI-MMPI test.
“We believe the use of this test as part of the hiring process assisted in evaluating the emotional stability of potential security officer candidates. However, we hope that the establishment of a fund will help address the concerns of those candidates to whom the test was administered,” said Robert Sykes, Target’s director of employee relations.
In addition, Target will pay $60,000 to Soroka and each of the other three named plaintiffs and will cover all of their legal costs. Target declined to say what the case will cost, but the plaintiffs’ lawyers said the company will pay out more than $2 million.
One of Soroka’s lawyers, Jeremy Friedman, said concern that the case would drag on indefinitely was one of the reasons the plaintiffs decided to settle. Still, Friedman said he is “very pleased” by the settlement, which he called “a complete vindication of the privacy rights of job applicants.”
Friedman also said the suit accomplished its goal of forcing Target to drop the test, noting that the company stopped using it in 1991. He predicted that other employers will drop the tests “rather than give themselves the exposure Target has had.”
A spokeswoman for Target, however, said the company stopped using the test to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. She said executives at the Minneapolis-based company--one of the biggest retailers in California, with 113 stores in the state--believe they would have prevailed in the courts.
Target settled, she said, because it wanted to stop incurring legal bills and needed to “get about the business of being retailers.”