It’s fairly common for promotion opportunities to attract lots of candidates—especially when the promotion offers a pay raise and the chance for additional job security. Don’t let that competition end in litigation.
The best way to stay out of court: Be very specific about the minimum requirements candidates must meet to qualify for promotion. If your announcement is too general, it may appear that many applicants are equally qualified. And that can lead to lawsuits if unsuccessful candidates believe they were denied the promotion for illegal, discriminatory reasons.
Writing a very specific job announcement will naturally discourage unqualified applicants.
Recent case: When a senior systems repairman at a U.S. Steel mill announced he would soon retire, the mill wanted to replace him with someone who had just as much electronics experience.
Gary Harkins applied for the job. He thought he had a good shot at the promotion because he’d taken several community college courses in electronics. But the promotion was given to another employee.
Why? HR concluded the other worker had much more electronics experience. He’d taken several internal tests, while Harkins had taken only one. He’d worked with the retiring systems repairman; Harkins hadn’t. Harkins, however, had worked for U.S. Steel longer.
Harkins sued, alleging that he was just as qualified as the other candidate and should have gotten the job because a union contract specified that—all other factors being equal—seniority should be the determining factor.
The court concluded all things were not equal. Based on the job announcement and manager testimony, the steel mill needed someone with extensive electronics experience. Harkins was not that candidate. It dismissed the lawsuit. (Harkins v. U.S. Steel, No. 09-1570, 3rd Cir., 2009)
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