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Hiring bias alert: Beware smoking-gun e-mails

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Hiring,Human Resources

Remind everyone involved in the hiring process: It’s much better to pick up the phone to discuss a candidate than it is to send an e-mail. E-mails can be recovered (and used as evidence in court); phone calls cannot.

Recent case: Suzanne Salisbury, a black woman, applied to become a Pittsburgh city emergency medical technician. The application asked if she had ever sued an employer and she answered “yes” because she had been involved in a lawsuit related to union organizing.

Her application indicated she held the appropriate education and certifications for the position.

Then two of the managers involved in recruiting started exchanging e-mails about the candidates. The first e-mail read, “Don’t interview her. She is bad news.” Another e-mail indicated, “She sued a former employer and has all kinds of financial problems.”

Later, the managers would explain that they didn’t want to hire someone with financial problems because she might be tempted to steal while in a patient’s home.

Salisbury wasn’t hired and sued for race and sex discrimination.

She contended that her involvement with the earlier lawsuit was protected activity and should not have been used against her. Salisbury acknowledged that she had filed for bankruptcy, but pointed out that Pittsburgh had hired white men with bankruptcy records. She argued that it was discrimination to assume white men with financial problems wouldn’t be tempted to steal, but black women would.

The court said the case should go to trial. There, Salisbury will be able to argue that the e-mails show prejudice against her because she was involved in past protected activity and that the managers had a racially biased view of financial problems. (Salisbury v. City of Pittsburgh, No. 08-CV-0125, WD PA, 2010)

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