Is your organization going through a transition period marked by discharges and new hires? If so, take a quick look at your pre- and post-transition work force composition. If the diversity of your work force has changed dramatically, you may need to consider the possibility of a federal lawsuit hitting you next. If this sounds familiar, rethink your strategy before it’s too late.
Recent case: When Eddie Jordan was elected district attorney of Orleans Parish, Louisiana, he made good on a campaign promise to diversify the office. He asked every support staff member to reapply for the positions they held before the election. Everyone was interviewed, but not all were retained.
Within a few weeks, the racial composition of the staff changed dramatically. Before the transition, there were 77 whites and 56 blacks on the support staff. There were just 27 whites and 130 blacks after the transition. Everyone fired was white, and they sued, alleging reverse discrimination.
The managers who did the hiring and firing couldn’t explain why they had fired only white staff members. After hearing the long odds of such a dramatic shift due to chance, the jury sided with the fired employees.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the jury verdict that awarded $2.4 million to the plaintiffs and added attorneys’ fees as well. (Descorte, et al., v. Jordan, et al., No. 05-31042, 5th Cir., 2007)
Final note: If an employment decision doesn’t pass the smell test, it’s time to slow down and consider the implications.