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Remind hiring managers: What you wear during interview may invite discrimination lawsuit

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Hiring,Human Resources

Have you reminded managers and supervisors that they should keep their dress professional when conducting interviews? If not, do so.

Attire that’s too casual—especially if it features a potentially offensive logo or design—can easily lead to a discrimination lawsuit.

Recent case: Robert Leonard claims to be Native American and, according to family history, a descendant of the Saginaw Band of the Ojibway Nation. He worked in building services at Eastern Illinois University.

When he was up for a possible promotion, he went to an interview where two panel members wore shirts with images of Chief Illiniwek, formerly used by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as the sports logo.

When Leonard wasn’t promoted, he blamed his Native American heritage. He said he had performed poorly at the interview because he was upset by the panel members who wore the logo shirts.

He sued, alleging discrimination.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals eventually dismissed the lawsuit, reasoning that the panel members wore the shirts during basketball’s March Madness season and not as a show of discrimination targeted at Native Americans. But that dismissal came only after the employer spent thousands in legal fees fighting the lawsuit. (Leonard v. Eastern Illinois University, No. 09-2443, 7th Cir., 2010)

Final note: The lawsuit could have been avoided if the managers dressed professionally. To sports fans, the shirts may have been inoffensive, they weren’t for Leonard. He had spent years protesting the Chief Illiniwek mascot.

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