Human factors sometimes cloud the judgment of hiring managers—and could end up costing an organization if it finds itself on the losing end of a failure-to-hire lawsuit.
That’s why it’s crucial to institute checks that prevent a hiring committee or manager from imposing subjective criteria on applicants. You want a hiring process that focuses on objective factors like experience and education, not on easily manipulated, subjective factors.
As the following case shows, letting a hiring committee “adjust” interview scores can lead to a discrimination lawsuit—especially when it turns out that an objectively more-qualified applicant who happens to belong to a protected class ends up losing out to an objectively less-qualified majority applicant.
Recent case: David Dunlap, who is black, worked as a boilermaker for 20 years, including 15 years as a supervisor. Much of that time, he was a temporary worker for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). But, for reasons that no one at the TVA could explain, it never offered Dunlap a permanent job, despite numerous applications.
Finally, the TVA selected Dunlap as one of 21 people to interview for 10 positions. The hiring committee consisted of five white managers and one black manager. The committee chose the top 10 candidates based on a composite score: 70% of an applicant’s score came from the interview, with 30% based on technical expertise.
Dunlap was among the top five applicants, based on his technical experience. He sued when he didn’t get a job, claiming that the hiring committee used subjective factors to keep him out. He pointed out that, during the interview, the committee scored him on and safety, but it assigned him lower scores than the white applicants with worse records. For example, one white applicant received more points for safety even though Dunlap had a perfect safety record and the white applicant had two accidents on his record.
The trial court said there was clear evidence of bias. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. By assigning the bulk of the points to the interview, and then assigning points that differed even for objective criteria such as safety, the committee showed bias. (Dunlap v. TVA, No. 07-5381, 6th Cir., 2008)
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