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Catch phrases can be code for discrimination

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Hiring,Human Resources

Does your organization use phrases such as “fits our culture” or “understands our vision” as part of the hiring decision? If so, you may be setting yourself up for a discrimination lawsuit.

Why? Because courts and juries sometimes view such subjective language as evidence that something else lies behind those phrases—maybe a desire to hide discrimination behind nebulous criteria instead of using objective measures to gauge experience or education.

Recent case: Gary Vaughn, who is white, was passed over for a promotion at the U.S. Agriculture Department even though he was a good employee with extensive experience. Another candidate, who is black and had less experience, was promoted instead.

To justify the decision, the agency said the chosen candidate was a better fit for the agency’s culture and better understood its vision. Vaughn sued, alleging reverse race discrimination.

The federal court hearing the case ordered a trial. The judge concluded that subjective phrases, such as the ones used in this case, could be codes to cover up the desire to hire or promote a black employee at the expense of a white employee. (Vaughn v. Johanns, et al., No. 06-CV-4038, SD IL, 2007)

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