- A female running coach who was twice denied a high school assistant coaching position presented sufficient evidence of sex and age bias to allow her case to move forward, an appeals court held (Joll v. Valparaiso Community Schools, No. 18-3630 (7th Cir. March 20, 2020)).
- Molly Joll was "an accomplished runner and an experienced running coach," according to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals opinion. She was passed over in favor of a younger man when she applied to be the assistant coach of a high school girls’ cross-country team. The school invited Joll to apply for the same position on the boys' team, with the same result: A younger man was hired instead.
- A federal district court granted summary judgment for the school district, but the 7th Circuit reversed, saying the district court had mistakenly looked for one single piece of evidence that proved the case rather than "an overall likelihood of discrimination." Joll, said the 7th Circuit, offered evidence that the school district "used hiring procedures tilted in favor of the male applicants, applied sex-role stereotypes during the interview process, and manipulated the criteria for hiring in ways that were inconsistent except that they always favored the male applicants." Reasonable jurors might not find bias, said the 7th Circuit, but they should be allowed to make the decision.
In this case, the 7th Circuit raised the important point that it's rare a single "smoking gun" piece of evidence establishes illegal bias or retaliation. More often, it's a series of decisions or actions that tend to lean in that direction.
Additionally, while bias is sometimes overt, oftentimes it is more subtle. Many individuals have biases they aren't even aware of on a conscious level, experts say. To address unconscious bias, some employers are turning to technology. Developers at Columbia University and Penn State University in 2019 developed an AI tool they say can detect bias based on gender and race in hiring, policing, pay practices, academic admissions and consumer financing.
McDonald's, for example, began using a tool called Textio in 2019 to speed up its recruiting and hiring process and improve inclusivity. Textio's augmented writing platform aims to help McDonald's hiring managers write corporate brand language and draft gender-neutral job postings.
Bias, or the perception of it, often shows up first in job descriptions. To eradicate it, experts say employers should avoid terms or words that signal bias against applicants on the basis of sex, race, national origin, age or ability. Regular training for managers is also essential to creating a fair, inclusive workplace free of both overt and unintentional biases, they said.