Federal Polygraph Lawsuit Dismissed

On 29 September 2006, United States District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan granted summary judgment (90 kb PDF) to the defendants in Croddy, et al. v. FBI et al. (Civil Action No. 00-651 [EGS]), dismissing the lawsuit which challenged the FBI’s and U.S. Secret Services’ pre-employment polygraph policies whereby applicants are denied employment based solely on the results of polygraph screening — a procedure that the National Academy of Sciences found to be completely invalid. In a footnote (no. 2 at p. 2), Judge Sullivan with a wave of the hand dismisses all concerns over the reliability of polygraphy:

Though Plaintiffs have introduced significant evidence on the question of whether polygraph examinations are reliable, the Court need not answer that question to resolve Plaintiffs’ claims. Therefore, the Court will not delve into the details of the polygraph examination process.

This is strange justice. Past filings documenting the plaintiffs’ claims are available here.

The Associated Press has published the following report on the court’s decision:

FBI Can Use Polygraphs On Applicants

WASHINGTON, Oct. 2, 2006
(AP) The FBI and Secret Service may continue to use lie-detector tests to screen potential employees, a federal judge ruled Monday.U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan’s ruling ends a six-year lawsuit brought by six applicants who failed polygraph tests and were denied jobs. They said the policy violated their rights to privacy and due process.The Secret Service has required polygraph tests for potential agents since 1985. All FBI employees have been tested since 1994.
Applicants are asked questions about their medical histories, finances, sex lives, drug use and mental health. Secret Service applicants are asked whether they have committed adultery or other sex crimes.

While those questions are personal, Sullivan said, they’re not an unconstitutional invasion of privacy. Because the applicants sought positions of public trust, the agencies have the right to inquire about the backgrounds of their agents, he said.

“With regard to the Secret Service’s specific questions, the agency has made a reasonable determination that there is a danger if its employees in sensitive positions could be blackmailed for some reason,” Sullivan wrote. “The court will not second-guess that conclusion.”

Four of the six applicants who brought the case probably were turned down based on their answers to drug-related questions, according to court documents. All denied using drugs.

“Three people know you’re lying: me, you and God,” a Secret Service polygraph agent said to one applicant, according to court documents.

“No, God and I know I’m telling the truth,” the applicant, Eileen Moynahan replied.

A fifth applicant was denied because she had lied about marijuana use on a Baltimore police application, prosecutors said. The sixth applicant was accused of holding his breath to try to beat the polygraph.

The lawsuit claimed the tests are unreliable, yet there is no way for applicants to clear their name. They said the stigma attached to failing the test would prevent them from getting other law enforcement jobs.

Sullivan denied that claim, noting that some of the applicants who brought the lawsuit now work in federal law enforcement jobs.

“Ultimately this will be an issue for the Supreme Court or Congress to take care of,” attorney Mark Zaid said.

Comments 4

  • Perhaps a bit suprisingly, I think the court decision was fair in this case. I think that bringing such cases is a mistake for those who wish to attack the polygraph. Imagine how a case would go in ancient Rome that was based on a condition of employment for becoming a spy was
    that they had to have a priest read the entrails, whereas Cicero thought that entrails reading was unreliable. Or, for that matter,suppose that to get into the Praetorian guard you had to undergo physical stress that would be considered torture for a short, fat individual.

    I think the fight against the polygraph should be brought by individuals who, on that basis, are charged with criminal acts, andthis requires very good expert witnesses, as the specific-issue polygraph has been accepted as valid even by the NAS.

    The fight against the employment or industrial use of the polygraph (which even Raskin and Honts oppose) has to be on the basis of the inadvisability of protecting a nation on the basis of superstition rather than science, rather than injury to individuals.

    All the best, John

    P.S. Of course I agree that polygraphed individuals have suffered a gross injustice, but I don’t think that bringing cases of individual injury will get very far, as there are lots of reasons why individuals are not accepted into certain occupations. And here too, what suffers is the nation itself, which leaves its important matters of securitiy to superstituous methods.

  • Unfortunately the polygraph is not 100% accurate. People have passed it that should have failed it. And people who should have passed it failed it. Or it comes up inconclusive. In my opinion the polygraph should not be used to make the final decision asto whether a person gets job, gets fired, etc.

  • I agree. With the generation we live in, man is relying on technology to justify a person’s heart and character. There is really no such thing as perfection in the world that we live in. Everyone has the opportunity to come to repentance and be forgiven for their sins. Even though many have passed a polygraph, that doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of committing fraud or causing corruption in the work environment. They are still liable to commit sins. Even though many have failed, life doesn’t end there. I think that an oath should be taken when an applicant is hired. I honestly think that polygraphs are corrupt in nature and why use something that hasn’t even been proven to be of accuracy. Many decent and innocent people have suffered. It is like their life is being thrown away by this. I don’t get how someone can pass a drug test, yet fail a question about drugs during the test.

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