- The hiring panel of a Minnesota county's sheriff's department did not engage in sex discrimination when it failed to promote a female deputy sheriff to sergeant, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held, affirming a federal district court's summary judgment for the department (Pribyl v. County of Wright et al., No. 18-3743 (8th Cir. July 13, 2020)).
- In 2014, the plaintiff applied to be a sergeant in the Wright County Sheriff's Department's Court Services Division. The application process consisted of three parts: an electronic application, a panel interview and a final decision by the county sheriff between five finalists recommended by the panel. The department hired a male candidate with less law enforcement experience than the plaintiff for the position, and she sued.
- The district court granted summary judgment for the department, holding that the plaintiff failed to rebut the employer's non-discriminatory explanation for not hiring her. While the sheriff had shared a gender stereotype during his deposition, that did not show that the hiring panel's harbored gender animus. None of the panel's members included the plaintiff in their lists of finalists, and the parties did not dispute that no gender-specific questions were asked during panel interviews, the 8th Circuit said.
Federal law, specifically Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex with respect to any aspect of employment. This includes hiring, job assignments and promotions, among other things, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Title VII's provisions extend to discrimination on the basis of gender identity — including transgender status — or on the basis of sexual orientation, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed in a June 15 ruling. The court's ruling will likely cause many employers to change their workplace policies and procedures accordingly, attorneys recently told HR Dive, but there are still implications of the ruling that may need to be decided by courts in the future.
Workplace discrimination charges have declined in recent years, according to EEOC statistics, but the agency continues to pursue cases in which workers allege gender-based discrimination. Even employers that manage to dodge specific claims may not emerge unscathed: a Florida federal district court ruled in favor of Walmart last year after four female former employees alleged the company discriminated against them in connection with their compensation as well as promotion opportunities. But the court also noted that "[i]t appears, however, to be only a matter of time before Plaintiffs' counsel manages to get it right with one of the dozens of cases now pending before the Court."
Resolutions can involve more than monetary payments, too. In February, a New York dairy company agreed to pay $1.35 million and to implement a recruiting plan toward that could increase the number of women in production positions to at least 15%.
Organizations have attempted a number of novel ways of reducing the impact that unconscious and conscious biases have in perpetuating gender-based discrimination in the recruiting process, including removing gender references from resumes. A study earlier this year of this process, used by the Hubble Space Telescope Time Allocation Committee, found female applicants were selected at a higher rate than their male counterparts following such a switch.