It can happen at the best of companies: You discover that a careless supervisor or manager made some comments that might be interpreted as prejudiced. When that happens, you know to discipline that employee.
But what do you do when the employee who was the target of the comments is up for promotion?
If you use a hiring committee that doesn’t include the manager in question, chances are you will be able to avoid a successful lawsuit.
Here’s how it works: First, make sure that the offending manager is not on the committee and has no say over who is promoted. Then proceed as you would with any candidate, using as many objective hiring standards as possible.
Recent case: Igor Belyakov is a vaccine researcher of Russian descent who worked for the National Cancer Institute. He was one of two top candidates for a promotion when a supervisor commented that “there are too many Russians” at the agency already. When Belyakov didn’t get the promotion, he sued, alleging national-origin discrimination.
The court said the comment was direct evidence of discrimination. However, it dismissed Belyakov’s case because the institute could show that the supervisor had no part in the actual promotion decision. A selection committee did all the work and selected another highly qualified candidate. (Belyakov v. Leavitt, No. 07-2140, 4th Cir., 2009)
Final note: Remind managers and supervisors against any comments on ethnicity or origins. They have no place in the workplace.