Unless they clearly understand they must treat all job candidates with the utmost respect and stick to job-related questions, supervisors inexperienced in HR matters can turn a simple hiring or promotion into a lawsuit.
The case: Jeanne Klawitter, who is white, was a patrol detective in the Trenton Police Department. She and a black officer both took the sergeant-promotion test. The department considered two factors—test scores and seniority—and the two tied for the open spot.
That’s when trouble began. During a short interview designed to “break the tie,” a supervisor asked Klawitter no questions about her professional work. Instead, he chatted about the softball team Klawitter played on. When Klawitter asked whether the interview was a waste of her time, the supervisor allegedly told her that he was under great pressure to promote a black officer.
Klawitter wasn’t chosen and sued for reverse discrimination under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination. A jury awarded her $79,000 for emotional suffering, plus attorneys’ fees and interest. The city of Trenton appealed. But the Superior Court of New Jersey refused to reverse the award, saying that there was enough evidence for the jury to conclude the supervisor’s alleged comments were evidence of reverse discrimination. (Klawitter, et al., v. City of Trenton, No. A-0208-05T5, Superior Court of New Jersey, 2007)
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