- An employer successfully demonstrated that it did not engage in race discrimination when it hired a white candidate over a black candidate, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has determined, upholding summary judgment for the employer (Jolivette v. City of Americus, GA, No. 19-10138 (11th Cir., Oct. 4, 2019)).
- The city of Americus, Georgia, was able to show that it had legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for hiring a white candidate instead of the plaintiff, Roderick Jolivette, as fire chief — namely that the interviewers "overwhelmingly preferred" the other candidate based on education, training, experience and interview performance. In fact, the employer said, 20 of the 28 individuals on the hiring panel ranked the other candidate as their first choice.
- The court said the city was entitled to rely on subjective hiring criteria in making its hiring decision because a subjective reason is a "legally sufficient, legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason if the defendant articulates a clear and reasonably specific factual basis upon which it based its subjective opinion."
Protected characteristics such as race, color, religion, sex and national origin — among other things — can't factor into employment decisions, according to U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance.
To prevent such discrimination, experts recommend that HR maintain diverse hiring panels, standardize interview questions and even consider removing identifying information like candidates' names from job applications. Similarly, some have suggested that HR standardize performance reviews and set up mechanisms to assist with feedback and promotions.
Court rulings also continue to demonstrate the importance of documentation. At a recent conference, Alison West, principal at Employment Practices Specialists, explained that a lack of documentation can lead a jury to assume that an employer didn't care enough to memorialize its actions. But the mere existence of documentation is not enough, she said; HR must ensure that records are clear, direct and sincere.