Courts don’t like to meddle in hiring decisions unless they see something obviously wrong with the hiring process.
The key is to treat all qualified applicants alike—and then document that you did so. For example, hiring managers should ask the same questions of everyone they interview and use the same scale to rate each applicant.
Recent case: Emilia Sellick works for the Department of Veterans Affairs. During her VA career, she earned a master’s degree in social work and began to apply for open social worker positions at the VA. Unfortunately, Sellick had once experienced problems with one of her supervisors: He had taught one of her college courses and gave her a poor grade.
That supervisor was on the selection panel for social worker positions and conducted her initial interview along with another colleague who didn’t know Sellick. The two asked a standard set of questions of all four candidates who were applying for three open slots. Then they scored everyone’s performance separately using the same method.
Sellick scored poorly with both interviewers, earning just one point out of 10 for each category measured. The other candidates scored much higher. Yet another panel then interviewed all four. The result was the same. Sellick consistently received the lowest scores from all panel members.
When she didn’t get one of the jobs, she sued for discrimination based on religion (Catholic) and national origin (German).
But Sellick couldn’t point to anything to counter her low scores. She provided no evidence that any of the interviewers other than her supervisor knew anything about her. Nor had the interviewers spoken to each other before scoring her performance.
The court tossed out the case. (Sellick v. Agency-Castle Point, et al., No. 09-Civ-6616, SD NY, 2010)