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Check past reviews of all who seek promotion

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

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.

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