If the workplace rumor mill tells you that one of your managers or supervisors may harbor antiquated ideas about equality, watch out—especially if he or she has any input into hiring and promotion decisions.
Instead, investigate the rumors and take a look at past hiring practices. You’re looking for hidden bias. If you find it, fix it—before someone sues.
Recent case: The EEOC sued Tyco on behalf of a black male employee who claimed he had been passed over for promotions in favor of white employees. During its investigation, the EEOC found that one of the managers involved in hiring decisions had told other managers to be careful about whom they hired.
Specifically, the manager recommended against hiring a young black female, defining her hire as the “trifecta effect”: being female, of childbearing age and black. He suggested that the candidate might get pregnant and want to take , and “also it’ll be kind of hard to get rid of her because she’s a minority.”
According to the court, those were not mere stray remarks, but might reflect a selection process full of discriminatory intent toward women and blacks. That was enough to send the case to trial. (EEOC v. Tyco, No. 6:07-cv-1462, MD FL, 2008)
Final note: How can you ferret out secret prejudice? Try an anonymous survey. Assure employees their answers won’t be traced, but will be seriously considered. It may be enough to encourage rogue managers to clean up their acts.