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Any ethnic stereotype, even a positive one, can trigger a job discrimination lawsuit

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

Most supervisors know that it’s illegal to voice negative racial, age or gender stereotypes in the workplace. But they may not realize that positive stereotypes also can lead to trouble.

A new court ruling in New York shows that stereotypes of any sort have no place at work. Remind managers that the law requires them to be blind to applicants’ and employees’ age, sex, race and religious characteristics.

Recent case: When a professor chose Jin Zhao, a woman of Chinese national origin, to work on advanced biomedical projects, she hired her partly because she had a high opinion of Chinese scientists.

Zhao heard that the professor had said she admired Chinese people because they “work very hard” and are happy to work long hours, so she preferred employees of that ethnicity.

Zhao got the job, but apparently didn’t live up to her boss’s stereotype. She eventually was fired for alleged poor performance. She sued, arguing that there was no way she could live up to the stereotype held by her boss.

The federal court ordered a trial. It concluded that Zhao may have been hired because of her boss’s positive view of her ancestry, but she also may have been harmed when she couldn’t live up to the image. (Zhao v. State University of New York, et al., No. 04-CV-0210, ED NY, 2007)  

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