If your promotion processes are haphazard—devoid of objective criteria and without a clear system for choosing candidates—you could wind up facing a disparate-impact discrimination lawsuit.
That’s one powerful reason to institute a clear promotion policy that includes posting job openings, creating application processes and relying primarily on objective selection criteria.
Recent case: Christian Eng and several other Asian-American police officers working for the Port Authority formed a mutual-support organization called the Asian Jade Society. They then sued the authority, alleging they had been illegally denied promotions to sergeant. In fact, no Asian-American Port Authority officer had ever been promoted.
Their lawsuit alleged that the Port Authority had a pattern and practice of discriminating against Asian-American officers.
As it turned out, promotions were very casual. They were almost always based on supervisors’ personal recommendations, not on other, more objective criteria like
In court, the Port Authority argued that it did use objective standards, but it couldn’t produce any supporting evidence. In fact, it had no records showing how the process worked. Although several Asian-Americans had been recommended for promotion, the board responsible for making the decisions couldn’t show why they hadn’t been selected.
A jury concluded that the Port Authority did discriminate against Asian-American officers.
The Port Authority urged the judge to overturn the jury’s verdict. It argued that, while it might not have a formal promotion process, there certainly wasn’t any policy that discriminated.
The judge disagreed. She said that the absence of objective policies could be the equivalent of having a discriminatory policy in place. The practical effect was the same—the promotion process had effectively denied Asian-American officers any chance at sergeant jobs. She decried the sort of “standardless and highly subjective” hiring practices used
in this case. (Port Authority Police Asian Jade Society, et al., v. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, No. 05-Civ-3835, SD NY, 2010)