Although it may defy logic to think that a member of a protected class would discriminate in hiring or promoting another member of the same class, having a minority decision-maker doesn’t automatically mean there’s no bias in the selection process.
Advice: Don’t get complacent, even if it looks as if your work force is balanced and diverse. After achieving what appears to be a racially blind hiring and promotion policy, some managers and supervisors may erroneously assume that no one could successfully sue for discrimination. But that’s just not true, as the following case shows.
Recent case: Michelle Hewlett, who is black, sued the Botsford General Hospital in Farmington Hills when it denied her the chance to interview for a promotion. After she submitted her internal application, she called regularly to see if she was one of the candidates selected for an interview.
Almost everyone involved in the selection process was black, including the corporate vice president of HR and her assistant, Kathy Dickerson.
After Hewlett found out she was not selected, she spoke with Dickerson about her application. Dickerson told Hewlett that her boss, the HR VP, had indicated by a gesture that no blacks would be considered for the position. Allegedly, the HR VP pointed to the back of her hand and said, “We have enough of those in the HR department.”
The court heard testimony about the gesture, including the view that it is a common one among blacks to indicate their race. The court concluded the gesture, along with the statement, was direct evidence that race had been a factor in Hewlett’s rejection.
Although the court eventually dismissed Hewlett’s case because she didn’t meet the minimum requirements for the position, it is an important reminder that discrimination comes from many quarters. (Hewlett v. Botsford General Hospital, No. 06-CV-12496, ED MI, 2007)