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Your best employees are probably eager for promotions. But when only one slot is open, promotions often leave several well-qualified candidates disappointed. To keep disappointment from leading to lawsuits, consider offering career coaching for those employees who didn’t make the cut.

It’s an opportunity to discuss an employee’s strengths and weaknesses, and to offer additional training.

Recent case: Accountant Michelle Ross, who is black, applied for a promotion into a management position at Pfizer. The job announcement said Pfizer preferred a candidate with experience at one of the “Big 4” large, national accounting firms, such as PricewaterhouseCoopers. Ross lacked that experience.

Pfizer interviewed Ross and three others in the first round and then picked two white candidates for the final round. The one with Big 4 experience got the job.

Ross complained; she didn’t believe Big 4 experience was relevant. The company then offered Ross additional training, at company expense, so she could prepare for the next promotion opportunity. Instead, Ross looked for another job and quit.

Then she filed a lawsuit, alleging race discrimination and constructive discharge.

But the court threw out her case. Ross wasn’t better qualified than the successful candidate. She couldn’t have been driven out, since Pfizer offered her training to overcome her experience gap.

Plus, the court said employers are free to stipulate experience preferences, and Ross’ belief that Big 4 experience was unnecessary didn’t show bias on Pfizer’s part. She would have had to prove that the experience requirement was just a pretext for discriminating against her. (Ross v. Pfizer, No. 09-5526, 6th Cir., 2010)

Final note: Offering additional training may not work for everyone, but should improve morale for many disappointed employees.

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