The Federal Department of Labor will investigate allegations that the hiring process of the Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) discriminates against women, a Labor department spokesperson said yesterday.
The decision to investigate was prompted by a complaint filed last week by Somerville resident Margaret A. Foley.
Foley, who has been attempting to secure employment at HUPD for two years, filed a report with the Department of Labor last week charging that the written examination required of all job applicants is gender-biased and that the all-male Oral Review Board views women candidates less favorably than male candidates.
If the government agency finds evidence to support Foley's claims, they will "attempt a 'conciliation agreement' [with the University] which would include remedies for the situation," said Paul M. Smith, district director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).
OFCCP, the agency conducting the investigation, is a division of the Department of Labor which investigates federally-funded institutions to determine whether they are complying with federal standards.
Although officials at OFCCP would not speculate on what would happen to the University if the claim is upheld, Foley said Harvard's several hundred million dollars could be revoked.
"It is up to Harvard University, as a recipient of federal funds and a user of the facilities of the Commonwealth, to ensure that the tests are unbiased," said Foley.
Officials at HUPD and the University's Office of the General Counsel declined to comment on the case yesterday.
Although Foley said she initially had no intention of resorting to legal action, she said she was prompted to act by the unfairness of the exam and the gross under-representation of women on the police force.
"I am outraged by the fact that at the time [I first applied in 1989] there were only three females out of a police force of about 60," said Foley.
"You can't have a woman on duty at all times...and if a female student is raped, she should be able to have a female police-person on duty to serve her needs if she wants it."
In her complaint, Foley said she thinks the hiring process is biased at several levels.
She said the written examination required of all applicants is explicitly male-oriented.
"Male names are used throughout as are male referent pronouns for persons of agency," said Foley. "Women are rendered completely invisible...except in the single case of one female, who is mugging victim."
Also, application forms asking for information such as the name of the candidate's wife discourage women from applying, and requests for marital status and family life violate Massachusetts state laws and are biased against women, Foley said in her complaint.
"What is all of this saying to the female applicant? It's saying you're not supposed to be applying," said Foley.
Foley also charged that the four-person, all-male Oral Review Board interview did not use objective standards to evaluate the candidates and were not pre-tested on their attitudes towards women officers.
Foley, who is currently unemployed, said she lodged the complaint after being rejected twice from the police force for no reason.
The police department currently has two professionally trained female patrol officers out of 65.