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Use transparent promotion process to prevent lawsuits

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When it comes to promotions, the clearer and more transparent the selection process, the better. Employees who know exactly what it takes to be promoted—and who know how to put their hats in the ring—are less likely to suspect some form of discrimination when they aren’t selected.

It’s especially important to avoid a process that’s too informal. Tell employees that mentioning an interest in a possible promotion isn’t the same as applying—the only thing that counts is the set promotion process. That way, they won’t think that telling a boss or supervisor they’re interested means they’re being seriously considered.

Recent case: Frederick Polite, who is black, worked as a schoolteacher and wanted a promotion to an assistant principal or principal position.

In the school district where Polite teaches, each school has a selection committee that interviews and ranks candidates for promotion, and then recommends two or three to the district superintendent. The superintendent then picks one to recommend to the school board.

Polite mentioned his interest in being promoted to several administrators and his supervisor. However, he never formally sought a recommendation for promotion.

After Polite watched others receive promotions and he did not, he sued, alleging that he had been passed over even though he had been “promised” the promotion by two school principals.

Both principals testified they had informal conversations with Polite, but never made promises. One checked his references and didn’t recommend him to the selection committee because she said she didn’t like what she had heard.

The court dismissed the case. It reasoned that Polite hadn’t been rejected by the school board because he was never formally a candidate. (Polite v. Dougherty County School District, No. 07-14108, 11th Cir., 2008)

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