Good news if you have ever worried about a lawsuit from an employee who was passed over for a promotion in favor of someone outside the employee’s protected class. While it’s impossible to guarantee you will never be sued, courts generally look favorably on properly run, fair hiring and promotion processes.
Remember, judges don’t want to be in the position of second-guessing your employment decisions.
Recent case: Janet Evans and Robert Coplin both claimed they had been passed over for promotions because of their sex or race. They sued, insisting that the court should consider their cases as “mixed motive” ones.
In a mixed motive case, employees try to show that their protected characteristic was one motivation for not being hired or promoted, perhaps among other legitimate reasons.
Employees are not required to show that discrimination was the only reason for the decision, just that it was a factor.
The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Evans’ and Coplin’s claim, concluding that without some evidence that race or sex was part of the decision, they had no case at all. Otherwise, every employee (since all employees belong to a protected class) would be able to take a case to a jury trial. And that’s not workable. (Evans, et al., v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, No. 10-3829, 3rd Cir., 2011)
Final note: This is a common-sense decision that should give HR professionals confidence that most employment decisions will stick.