Responding to a complaint filed by the Rhode Island ACLU at the end of 2009, the R.I. Commission for Human Rights has issued a finding that there is “probable cause” to believe that a job application form used by CVS Pharmacy, Inc. for various customer service positions violates state anti-discrimination laws that bar employers from eliciting information that pertain to job applicants’ mental or physical disabilities.

CVS utilizes an online job application process for many of its positions. One component of that process requires applicants to complete statements about “attitudes and experiences.” Specifically, applicants must indicate whether they “strongly disagree, disagree, agree, or strongly agree” with about 100 “attitudinal” statements. Among the statements applicants must respond to are:

  • “You change from happy to sad without any reason.”
  • “You get angry more often than nervous.”
  • “Your moods are steady from day to day.”
  • “There’s no use having close friends; they always let you down.”

Although employers may legally ask questions designed to help determine an applicant’s personality or aptitude for a job, the complaint argues that the questions listed above and similar ones “could be used to seek information about an applicant’s mental health, or could have the effect of discriminating against applicants with certain mental impairments or disorders, and go beyond merely measuring general personality traits.” The complaint, filed by RI ACLU cooperating attorney Christopher Corbett, notes that an employer’s reliance on answers to those questions could have an impact on individuals with such illnesses as depression, ADHD, social anxiety, and other affective disorders.

As a result of the Commission’s finding, which was received this week, the parties may seek a “right to sue” letter from the Commission and proceed to court or elect to have the Commission continue its investigation for a final determination.

ACLU attorney Corbett said today: “This questionnaire can easily serve to discourage qualified applicants from seeking employment with CVS. In today’s job market, the last thing people need is to worry about being screened out of a job because of answers to inappropriately invasive questions. In light of the Commission’s finding, I am hopeful that CVS will reconsider its position.”