With so many qualified people applying for jobs these days, it’s much harder for unsuccessful candidates to win hiring discrimination lawsuits. That’s because employers choosing the best candidate often zero in on one bit of experience or a skill that stands out from other applicants. It’s hard to argue that that’s discrimination.
Recent case: William Watkins, who is white, applied for three regional administrator positions with the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The first step was a screening test that ranked 21 candidates. For each region, the DMV considered the top three candidates who expressed interest in that region. Watkins made all three lists because he applied for all three. Hispanic women occupied the other spots, based on their scores and region preference.
A panel interviewed the top candidates and decided that five, including Watkins, would undergo a final interview with a single manager, who would make the choice for each region.
When Watkins didn’t make the cut, he sued, alleging sex and race discrimination.
But the DMV had carefully tracked the decision-making process. It explained to the court that, although Watkins and the other four top candidates were all genuinely qualified for the three jobs, it came down to small things like whether a candidate had taken the time to familiarize himself or herself with the particular regions. Watkins fared the poorest by that measure.
The court dismissed his lawsuit. Although he competed with four Hispanic women, there was no indication that the test that advanced them and Watkins to the top candidate pool was discriminatory, or that the use of knowledge of the region was an excuse to knock Watkins out of the running. (Watkins v. Department of Motor Vehicles, No. B228441, Court of Appeal of California, 2nd Appellate District, 2011)