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Keep ‘Customer Preference’ Out of Your Hiring Criteria

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Hiring,Human Resources

Issue: Employers sometimes hire people of a certain age, race or gender because it makes their customers more "comfortable."

Risk: Discrimination is discrimination. Courts won't be swayed by claims that customer preferences forced your hiring hand.

Action: Remind hiring managers that ability to do the job is the only criterion that matters.

Make sure your hiring managers understand that basing hiring decisions on the prejudices of your customer base is a sure way to land in court. Applicants' race, age, sex or religion should always be irrelevant.

Courts have said that job discrimination is illegal even if your hiring managers try to push off their bias onto a third party. Excuses such as "Our customers feel more comfortable dealing with [male or younger or white] employees" won't fly. That's true even if you're in a service industry that depends on customer satisfaction.

Also, be on guard for managers' bias-tainted comments, such as, "That applicant reflects who our average customer looks like."

Case in point: Ralph Jones, an African-American, was a top-rated poker dealer, but he was consistently rejected for permanent positions at the Horseshoe Casino.

Jones sued, alleging race discrimination. He produced evidence that the hiring manager had said, "These good old white boys don't want black people touching their cards." The court ordered a trial based on that evidence of race bias. (Jones v. Horseshoe Casino, No. 04-60924, 5th Cir., 2005)

Final tip: Remind hiring managers that you have no tolerance for unguarded comments at work. Employees often remember (and take notes on) offhand remarks, such as the "white boys" comment above.

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