Racial discrimination at work or tough competition?

by on January 14, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Racial discrimination in the workplace charges stem from bad promotion decisions

Will Griggs was fed up. He’d applied for five different jobs that his employer had posted over the past two years. Each job would have been a step up for Will. And he was qualified for each of the positions, too.

Earlier, after he’d lost out on the second opportunity, Will mentioned his frustration to another manager, who said he believed that African-Americans were denied opportunities for advancement in the company.

It looked like a pattern

Anyone could look at an organizational chart and see that minorities weren’t well represented at Bershad, Inc. And Will was African-American. So, after losing out on all five tries, he complained to his boss.

At first Will’s boss, Carly Baker, was apologetic. “It’s always a tough decision, Will,” she said. “It’s true that you were qualified for the supervisor’s job, but there were other candidates who had better qualifications.”

“I don’t understand,” said Will. “The job description said it required a college degree, excellent communication skills and three years previous experience. That describes me perfectly.”

Carly agreed. “It does. But we chose a candidate who had significantly more leadership experience than you. We felt that his experience would give him an edge in the position.”

Will mentioned the other four jobs for which he’d applied. He’d met the qualifications for each one of them. But in two cases he didn’t even get an interview. For each of the jobs, Carly had documented why another candidate had edged Will out.

Will sued. Even though the firm could show that each candidate who’d been hired was better qualified, he believed he’d been a victim of racial discrimination at work. Did Will win his case?

The decision

Yes, Will won his lawsuit against his employer.

Despite the company’s abundant documentation, Will managed to show that there was a reasonable likelihood that his employer had a pattern of racial discrimination at work against African-Americans.
A pattern emerged

The court was swayed by two facts in this case:

· The remarks made by the manager who believed that Will may have been discriminated against because of his race
· It was evident to the court that the company had few minority managers, even though there were qualified minority employees seeking management positions.
The employer’s documentation showed that the candidate who beat Will out for one job had more experience in negotiating, which was an important part of the job.

The candidate who was selected for another of the positions had completed a higher degree of training than Will.

It looked good on paper, said the court. But all the documentation in the world won’t help a company when minorities are under-represented in management – especially when there are qualified minority employees in the company who want those management jobs.

This case teaches the importance – and the legality – of maintaining a diverse workplace where everyone has an equal opportunity to advance without the barrier of racial discrimination at work

Cite: Hopson v. Daimler-Chrysler Corp., U.S. Court of Appeals, 6th Circuit, No. 01-1192, 9/30/02. Fictionalized for dramatic effect

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