Score One for the Employee! But Beware ‘Points-Only’ Hiring System

Do you assign points or scores to rank candidates during their interviews? If so, do you explain in writing why the applicant received each score? A new court ruling says you’d better back up those numbers with an explanation or you might just lose points in front of a jury if you’re sued for discrimination …

Case in Point: Roger Lovell, a 60-year-old security guard for a federal contractor, applied for two promotions but lost out to younger candidates in both cases. Lovell’s work history included a 22-year career in the Air Force and an associate’s degree in criminal justice.

For one promotion, he lost out to six younger candidates for a shift lieutenant position. All candidates were interviewed by a three-person panel. They assigned scores based on each response to a 20-question test. Only numbers were written, not comments. The promotion was given to a 42-year old candidate whose score was 10 points higher than Lovell’s.

A few months later, Lovell lost out on a promotion for a training sergeant position to a 30-year-old who had four years of experience in private security, a high school degree and four years in the marines. Again, the interview panel assigned only numerical scores to the interview questions. The applicant with the highest interviewing score was selected. Lovell lost by one point.

Lovell sued under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), claiming the interviewing process was unfair and discriminatory. The ADEA protects individuals age 40 and above from discrimination in employment decisions. Lovell also claimed the company completely failed to use its own selection guidelines that suggest hiring managers consider other factors (i.e., experience, education) in their hiring decisions.

The company defended its decisions, saying it didn’t discriminate because it based its hiring choices on clear, objective measures—the interview scores. In both cases, the person with the highest interview score won the job.

What happened next…and what lessons can be learned?

The court rejected the company’s argument, saying that an adding machine is just not enough to avoid an age discrimination case. It sent the case to a jury trial.

The court noted that the company’s defense only offered up the interview scoring sheets that included “unexplained numeric scores for the answers to the interviewer’s questions.” The company failed to provide any evidence or explanation of why Lovell received lower interview scores than the younger candidates that were hired. (Lovell v. Covenant Homeland Security Sec. Solutions Ltd., S.D. Tex. 12/23/08).

3 Lessons Learned …Without Going to Court

1. Numbers are not enough. Best practices suggest you support interview scores with quotes from the applicants to show why he or she earned that number.

2. Follow your organization’s selection guidelines.
If you ignore them, they will be used against you.

3. Take the jury test.
Lovell lost the second promotion by one point. Had the company stood in the shoes of a jury, it would have seen the decision to give the position to a less experienced and less educated applicant by only one interview point looked questionable. They should have questioned their process. Now, a jury will be doing that for them!