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Objective, unwavering criteria is key to litigation-Proof promotions

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

A lawsuit is the last thing you want after making a promotion decision. The best way to stay out of court is to insist on objective promotion criteria. You know the routine. Consider only those employees with the experience, education and training the promotion requires. Then select the most highly qualified individual.

But what if the top candidates for promotion are equally qualified? That’s when you use a neutral tiebreaker, such as seniority.

Note: Then, stick to your guns. Once you’ve made your decision, avoid reversing it. As the following case shows, that’s an almost certain recipe for a discrimination lawsuit.

Recent case: Veronica Griggs, who is white, worked for BellSouth as an operator. BellSouth advertised a promotion opportunity. The company selected two equally qualified applicants to interview—Griggs and Dorothy Kimbrough, who is black. Griggs got the job because she had 21 more days of seniority—the criteria BellSouth used to break a promotion tie.

After Griggs was promoted, Kimbrough complained, claiming she had other experience that should have been considered. BellSouth then revoked Griggs’ promotion and selected Kimbrough. Griggs sued for reverse discrimination, pointing out that the additional experience Kimbrough claimed wasn’t listed on the job announcement. The court said the case should go to trial, and a jury will decide if the retracted promotion was based on race. (Griggs v. BellSouth, No. 4:06-CV-076, MD GA, 2007)

Final note: It may seem as if the company was in a no-win situation. A black employee claimed she had been passed over when she was more qualified. Then a white employee said the black employee was promoted because of her race. Was there a better way to handle this case? Yes.

By second-guessing the criteria it had set for promotions, BellSouth practically admitted it didn’t have an objective set of requirements. The company should have stuck with its business judgment about the qualifications it wanted.

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