A man who proctored licensing tests for home health-care aides has filed a federal lawsuit alleging he was fired after complaining that a Somali translation of the test was “lousy and unfair” and resulted in higher failure rates than tests in other languages.

John Stewart was employed as a test evaluator for Prometric, a multinational company based in Maryland that specializes in computer-based testing. The Washington Department of Health (DOH) contracts with Prometric to test applicants seeking to become licensed home-care aides, according to a spokeswoman for the DOH.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, alleges that in January 2018, Stewart noticed that Somali candidates taking the home-care-aide test were “failing the knowledge exam at an unusually high rate.” Other evaluators saw similar discrepancies, which involved pass rates of about 72% for Somali candidates, while English-speaking candidates had a pass rate of nearly 99%. Other foreign-language candidates were passing the test at a rate of around 86%, according to the lawsuit.

In April 2018, according to the lawsuit, Stewart and some of the other evaluators suggested Prometric look into a new translation for the Somali test. “The response from management was that it would not happen because it was too expensive,” the lawsuit claims.

In July, Stewart claims he took his concern to the Department of Health, stating the Somali test was “fundamentally unfair.” Shortly thereafter, the lawsuit alleges, Stewart was suspended for two weeks for contacting the DOH outside the chain of command and without permission. He resumed work in August, and again complained about the test being unfair to Somali candidates. In response, Stewart claims, he was warned he could lose his job “because he was not able to drop the issue.”

Moreover, Stewart said he was told that both Prometric and the DOH were concerned he had a conflict of interest as a proctor assigned to test applicants and was told to destroy the materials relating to the pass/fail rates. The lawsuit alleges he forwarded copies of the information to his personal email account before destroying them, “because he believed Prometric was engaging in a cover-up of its discrimination.” He was terminated in September after he complained about the Somali test once again, the lawsuit said.

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The lawsuit alleges he has suffered lost wages, emotional distress and other damages as a result.

DOH spokeswoman Julie Graham acknowledged that the Somali pass rate for the test declined in 2018. Since then, the department has contacted the Somali Health Board, which “expressed concerns with the quality, clarity and accuracy of both the oral and written translations” of one form of the test. She said DOH contacted Prometric, which returned to using another form of the test and is “working with their contracted vendors to improve the Somali translated exam.” The pass rate has improved in recent months, she said.

Seattle attorney James Shore, who is representing Prometric in the lawsuit, said the difficulties with the test were compounded because “there seems to be multiple dialects and regional differences that are prevalent in the Somalian community.” The company has filed a response to Stewart’s lawsuit, denying the allegations.