Formal education is just one measure of an applicant’s qualifications. Some jobs demand relevant, real-world work experience. If a failed applicant sues, claiming a college degree should have trumped on-the-job experience, you’ll probably win—if you can justify your experience requirements.
Recent case: Texas-New Mexico Power employee Linda, who is black and has a college degree, sought several promotion opportunities. She applied for one such job, but was not selected. Instead, the company picked a white man with years of very specific experience, which hiring managers believed would help him hit the ground running.
Linda sued, alleging race discrimination. She said she was better qualified for the job because she had a college degree and that the only reasonable explanation for the man’s selection must have been race bias.
The court didn’t buy it. It pointed out that employers are free to use work experience as a substitute for education if they wish. In this case, Texas-New Mexico Power clearly articulated the experience it wanted, and that the man had.
While Linda had a college degree, she did not have comparable experience. (Criner v. Texas-New Mexico Power Company, et al., No. 11-20391, 5th Cir., 2012)
Final note: Be sure your job descriptions and announcements spell out preferred and minimum education or experience requirements. The more specific you are, the less likely an applicant will successfully challenge your selection when the successful applicant meets or exceeds your listed requirements.