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Is it illegal to reject a résumé based on a person’s name?

by on
in HR Soapbox

Résumés with common names are more likely to receive callbacks than those with Russian and African American names, according to a study published in the Journal of Managerial Psychology. And a Canadian study using 6,000 dummy résumés yielded similar results for “English-sounding” names versus Pakistani and Chinese names.

Although no specific federal law makes it unlawful to discriminate based on a person’s name, name-based evaluation methods could trigger claims of race bias or national origin discrimination.

Reason: The EEOC says, “The concept of race is multifaceted. For example, it can encompass cultural traits such as a person’s name or his or her manner of speech.”

In fact, a few years ago, Target Corp. settled an EEOC race-bias case that claimed the company decided not to interview three black candidates because of the names on their résumés: Kalisha White, Ralpheal Edgeston and Cherise Brown-Easley.

Three tips to avoid a similar fate: 

• Avoid looking at names first. With paper résumés, cover the name or fold over the part showing it. With online résumés, scroll up the portion revealing the name. This also helps remove gender-bias claims.

• Evaluate résumés objectively. Assess experience, credentials and skills and then identify the name if the candidate meets the requirements.

• After viewing the name, keep an open mind. Guard against quick judgments and assumptions.  

• Don’t discuss the ethnic origins of applicants’ names with co-workers.

Posted by Editorial at 6/14/2011 7:56 PM

As a professional, you should not have to cover names while reviewing resumes. If a name triggers bias, you are in the wrong profession!
Posted by: Cheryl Warren at 6/16/2011 2:01 PM


HR professionals, I work with people whose names do not reflect their national origin. Check biases at the door! If not, you might hire the wrong person and overlook the best match for company.
Posted by: Shelia DuBose at 6/17/2011 1:23 PM


Working in HR you realize that names are not always a true reflection of national origin, especially when dealing with women. The name isn't always a maiden name and could be from marriage.

I had a supervisor I constantly had to "scold" for not interviewing applicants who had "foreign" names. I explained we weren't hiring someone based on a name but rather their skills and experience for the job. After many attempts to get him to see the discrimination he was blatantly making, we had no choice but to terminate his employment.
Posted by: Tina at 6/17/2011 5:03 PM

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