When a supervisor already knows who he wants to promote—and has also identified someone he definitely doesn’t want to get the job—he just may concoct a reason to explain his choice. But if that reason doesn’t jibe with the rejected employee’s past evaluations, trouble lurks.
Make sure you check and get a good explanation for any discrepancy before you approve the promotion.
Recent case: Shari Hutchinson, a lesbian, worked for the Cuyahoga County Board of County Commissioners. She got great reviews and was regularly complimented on her positive attitude, ability to get along with others and communications skills. No one ever complained about her temperament or mentioned any instability.
Hutchinson applied for several promotions for which she was well-qualified. For one, she earned the highest score on a written exam and had all the relevant qualifications. She was passed over for a heterosexual candidate.
Hutchinson sued, alleging discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
The county argued she didn’t get the job because she was not “level-headed.”
The court didn’t buy that explanation, given Hutchinson’s past stellar reviews and the accolades she had received on her communications skills. It said the discrepancy might be enough to convince a jury that the real, underlying reason was anti-gay bias. (Hutchinson v. Cuyahoga County Board of County Commissioners, No. 1:08-CV-2966, ND OH, 2011)
Final note: It’s far better to offer no reason for a choice than to make one up. At least then, the employee who lost the promotion would have to show she was far more qualified than the chosen candidate. A fake reason only raises red flags and invites litigation.
Always follow your rules for selecting employees. Bypassing the rules is another red flag that invites scrutiny.