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Tell managers: Avoid subjective hiring preferences

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Hiring,Human Resources

When it comes to hiring and promotions, it’s best to avoid subjectivity in the selection process. Tell managers and supervisors: If they have to rely on hunches, impressions and whether they “feel” one candidate is a better choice than another candidate, they are asking for trouble.

That’s especially true if the preferred candidate doesn’t meet each and every qualification called for in the job announcement and description.

If hiring managers insist on using “soft” hiring preferences, at least make sure they thoroughly document the interview questions and can explain to a jury exactly how each candidate handled the questioning—just in case a lawsuit follows.

Recent case: Malcolm Byrd, who is black, worked for the city of Philadelphia in public health. He took an exam for a promotion and passed. Soon all the employees ahead of him on the promotion list had moved up to new jobs. Byrd was the only person in his section still on the promotion list.

But when a promotion opened up, managers interviewed a white female for the job. Unlike Byrd, she didn’t have the master’s degree the job required, nor the requisite experience. She still was selected, based on her interviewers’ conclusions that she performed the best during the interview process.

Byrd sued, alleging race discrimination. The city claimed it had a legitimate reason for its preference—namely, the woman’s superior performance at the interview.

But none of the managers who interviewed her could explain to the court exactly what questions they asked or how she answered them.

Nor could they explain why—when Byrd held the right degree—they preferred a white woman who had a degree in an entirely different field over the one specified in the job announcement and description. That was enough for the judge to order a trial. (Byrd v. City of Philadelphia, No. 05-2877, ED PA, 2007)

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