When promotions favor similar employees, prepare to justify — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

Have many of your recent promotions gone to members of one sex or some other protected category? If so, take some time now to figure out how that happened.

It’s entirely possible that what at first looks like a suspicious “coincidence” that could be misconstrued as discrimination is actually completely innocent. If you can document that early on, you probably will be able to keep a jury from second-guessing your promotion decisions—or even win a quick dismissal before a discrimination suit even reaches the jury.

In the following case, what initially looked like discrimination favoring females turned out to have a simple explanation: The employer had far more female than male employees, so naturally it promoted more women.

Recent case: Craig Maxwell was a career federal employee in the Office of Personnel Management. Maxwell had topped out the salary cap in his current job, so he applied for a promotion to a higher position that offered the potential for more pay increases.

However, the agency rejected Maxwell’s application and instead promoted eight women. Maxwell sued, alleging sex discrimination.

He easily met the first requirements for a successful lawsuit—as a male, he was a member of a protected class, he was qualified for the position he sought, he was rejected, and members of another class (females) received promotions.

But the agency still won the case when it explained that women made up nearly 80% of the work force. Plus, 51 of the 66 candidates competing for the jobs were also female.

In addition, the selection panel included a man, as well as two women. The court refused to send the case to trial. (Maxwell v. Springer, No. 06-4984, 3rd Cir., 2008)

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