Not every job is the same, despite comparable titles and perhaps even pay scales. But having similar-sounding titles and rates of pay doesn’t necessarily make positions interchangeable. That’s what one employee who was turned down for a promotion in her division learned when she sued for alleged race discrimination.
Stick to objective, specific, job-related criteria and chances are no court will interfere—as long as you religiously follow the criteria. It’s the appearance of unfairness that sways juries, not valid business decisions.
Recent case: Kimberly Welch worked for Mercer University, starting out as a research technician in the Basic Medical Sciences Division and rising to research coordinator. Welch, who is black, then applied for a position as program director/instructor—a faculty position. But the Basic Medical Sciences Division required all faculty members to hold either a master’s degree or a doctorate. Welch had neither.
Welch sued, alleging that white women had been promoted in other divisions without having to hold an academic degree.
But the court reasoned that the other divisions were free to set their own requirements, based on their unique missions, which did not include the exact educational requirements needed in the Basic Medical Sciences Division. The case was dismissed because Welch couldn’t prove she was treated more poorly than similarly situated applicants outside her protected class. (Welch v. Mercer University, No. 08-13133, 11th Cir., 2008)
Final note: It’s a good idea to make sure each business unit can justify its promotion requirements, including the use of objective experience and educational requirements. These are within the legitimate purview of , which gets to make business decisions about how to run its operations. Courts won’t interfere with reasonable, well-thought-out rules.