Category Personnel/Employment
Title Personality Test Runs into Trouble with ADA
Preview Personality Test Runs into Trouble with ADA

Personality Test Runs into Trouble with ADA

Rent-A-Center (RAC) operates a chain of stores that offer appliances and other household goods on a rent-to-own basis. Steven, Michael, and Christopher Karraker, who worked for RAC as account managers, each applied for promotions. To be eligible for promotion, account managers had to pass a series of nine tests that measured math, language, and other skills and interests. The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) was part of the testing protocol. The 502 test questions measure whether an employee or a job applicant works well in groups and can handle fast-paced situations, but they can also be used as an indicator for certain psychiatric disorders such as depression, paranoia, and hysteria. When each of the men failed to score well enough on the MMPI, they were denied promotions. They sued RAC under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because the ADA prohibits employers from using any medical tests that screen out, or tend to screen out, people with disabilities. RAC argued that it used the test results only to measure and applicant's "state of mind." RAC asked the court for summary judgment (dismissal of the case), and the U.S. District Court dismissed the case.

The Karrakers appealed te dismissal of their case to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that, regardless of whether the employer used the test to weed out applicants with certain disorders, use of the MMPI likely had the effect of excluding employees with disorders from getting promotions. The circuit court reversed the decision of the lower court to dismiss the case, and sent the case back for a trial on its merits.

Karraker v. Rent-A-Center, Inc., 7th Cir., No. 04-2881

Bottom line: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines medical examination as a test that "seeks information about an individual's physical or mental impairments or health." The EEOC also states that psychological tests designed to identify a mental disorder or an impairment constitute medical examinations, but tests that simply measure personality traits, such as honesty, do not.

Because this was the first court to strike down a screening test since the federal Americans with Disabilities Act went into effect in 1992, it is considered a case of "first impression." While the court's decision immediately applies to employers in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin (the states it has jurisdiction over), it is likely that courts in other jurisdictions will pay attention to this ruling and pay adopt similar rulings that would apply in other states. ACSI urges your school to take a careful look at any tests that ahve clearly job-related questions. Fortunately, tests that measure honesty and character are still allowed, as are tests that measure various skills such as math, typing, and computer knowledge.

The HR Specialist's article "Résumé-Screening Software: Legal Risks and Precautions" (Employment Law, September 2006) comments on this case and concludes that you can remain on "firmer legal ground" if you use particular personality tests. The following two tests "correlate well with job success, they aren't diagnostic, and they have a good reputation as being valid":

  • The Hogan Personality Inventory test, (Click on Products and Services, then Assessments, and then Hogan Personality Inventory.)
  • The NEO Personality Inventory test, (Click on Personality/Counseling.)

Notice: This article is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It has been provided to member schools with the understanding that ACSI is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional services. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. Laws vary by jurisdiction, and the specific application of laws to particular facts requires the advice of an attorney.

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