To prevent promotion bias, seek co-workers’ input

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Sometimes, all the candidates for a promotion are equally qualified, making the selection difficult. It becomes a legally prickly issue when one or more of the candidates is in a protected category (race, age, gender, etc.).

But you don’t have to resort to drawing straws.

One good way to avoid (or defend) a promotion-discrimination lawsuit is to seek additional input from others in the organization to help distinguish among the internal candidates. When you’re able to point to comments by an employee’s co-workers as proof of work quality, you’ll have an easier time proving a nonbiased process. Just make sure you ask the same questions about each applicant.

Recent case: StarBand Communications wanted to promote from within to fill a tech support supervisor position. After an initial screening process, the company selected three finalists: Ikenga Smith, another black male and a white male.

A four-manager team decided that the three candidates were equally qualified. Another manager also ranked them equal. To break the tie, the company sought input from the other tech-support supervisors, who said Smith had some problems with communication and supervisory skills.

The team selected the white male. Smith filed a race-bias lawsuit, alleging he was clearly the best qualified. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.

Since the evaluators found the candidates equally qualified, Smith had failed to show that “no reasonable person, in the exercise of judgment, could have chosen” another candidate over him. And given that the parties were equally qualified, asking potential co-workers for input was reasonable. (Smith v. StarBand Communications, No. 06-12128, 11th Cir., 2006)  

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