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Focus on concrete qualifications in hiring, not esoteric ‘chemistry’

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Hiring,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Employers "hire for fit" all the time. But sometimes, a fine line exists between basing decisions on job-related qualifications and the employer's "gut feelings" about the applicant. The problem: That gut feeling could lead to unintentional discrimination.

That's why it's vital to link your hiring decisions to verifiable job qualifications and essential functions of the position.

For example, if your sales positions require people with a spirit to serve, tie that attribute to your job description, stressing the importance of your customer service.

Bottom line: When people can show a weakness in your reasons for hiring decisions, they'll have an easier time swinging a jury in their favor.

Recent case: Cable-TV broadcaster Gwen Owens, who is African-American, applied for two news anchor spots at a company but wasn't hired for either. White broadcasters filled both spots. During the hiring, management referred to the "on-air chemistry" between anchors as a key hiring factor.

Owens sued, claiming that the reference to "chemistry" was really a code word for racial discrimination. Management also noted that Owens had previously sued a company subsidiary for race discrimination.

A district court allowed her case to proceed to trial, saying a jury may see the comment as evidence of improper motives and racial bias. (Owens v. Comcast Corp., No. 02-1240, E.D. Pa., 2004)

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