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Don’t fear conflicting reviews show discrimination

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

Sometimes, employees work with several supervisors, all of whom provide input on that employee’s performance. Of course, supervisors are individuals whose perspectives may differ. And the employee may do different work for various supervisors. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the employee might receive very different performance appraisals from each of those bosses.

That can be an administrative headache, but it’s unlikely to land you in court. Courts generally won’t view differing evaluations by more than one supervisor as evidence of discrimination—unless other evidence shows discriminatory intent by a supervisor who gave a poor evaluation.

Recent case:
Linda Hunter, who is white, worked as an administrative assistant at a college. She worked for several supervisors. Her immediate supervisor gave her a poor review and didn’t want to retain her past the end of her first annual contract. But other supervisors didn’t see her work so negatively. Hunter lost her job based on her immediate supervisor’s recommendation.

Hunter sued, alleging reverse discrimination. She claimed the college had a secret agenda to promote diversity and therefore wanted her out so it could hire someone of color. She pointed to the conflicting evaluations as proof her supervisor was biased and wanted her gone.

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals said Hunter’s speculations about diversity and the conflicting evaluations simply weren’t enough to cast doubt on the college’s apparently legitimate reason to discharge her—her immediate supervisor’s belief that she was a poor performer. (Hunter v. Rowan University, No. 07-2300, 3rd Cir., 2008)

Final note:
The court also said the existence of a “diversity memo” wasn’t enough to cast immediate suspicion on an otherwise legitimate-looking employment decision. There has to be something else pointing to race discrimination—such as comments, hostility or evidence the poor evaluation was fabricated.

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