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Will your decisions hold up in court? Be prepared to explain apparent contradictions

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

If you offer contradictory reasons for hiring one applicant instead of another, be prepared to explain away the inconstancy. Otherwise, you may be vulnerable to a discrimination lawsuit.

Recent case: Deborah is white and worked as an emergency medical service instructor at a community college. At the time her contract was up, the college was having financial difficulties and decided to cut staffing costs. It offered Deborah a part-time position as an adjunct instructor, teaching the same courses. She accepted.

More than a year later, the college hired a black woman full time for the job Deborah had held. It did so because an accreditation agency required a full-time instructor on the faculty.

Deborah sued, alleging reverse discrimination.

Her argument centered on this contradiction: How could the college say it cut her job to save money, and then spend the same amount on another instructor? That, she claimed, made it clear she was fired for discriminatory reasons.

The court said the moves weren’t contradictory. The college didn’t renew Deborah’s contract because of finances, but then had to hire someone to keep its accreditation, essentially being forced to add someone to the payroll despite the economic strain. Since that was the only “evidence” Deborah had, her case was dismissed. (Patrick v. Bishop State Community College, No. 11-13009, 11th Cir., 2012)

Final note: The events in this case were a year apart. Had they occurred around the same time, it would have been a closer case.

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