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Promoting? Avoid any appearance of favoritism

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in Human Resources

Choosing which of your employees to promote is always difficult, since at least one employee will be disappointed. That can lead to friction or even a lawsuit.

That’s why it’s crucial for the entire process to look—and be—as transparent as possible. You simply must avoid any appearance of favoritism.

Recent case:
William Snooks, who is black, applied for a promotion to field services supervisor after working for Duquesne Light for years. Several other employees also applied for the job. Snooks and another candidate, a white woman, were selected for interviews.

A panel asked each candidate the same questions and took notes on their answers. After discussing the interviews, the panel concluded the candidates were equally qualified and suggested a second tie-breaking interview.

Meanwhile, one of the second interview panelists happened to be visiting the office where the white female candidate worked, ostensibly to become more familiar with the job. He took her on a “ride-along” in the field. The following week, he was part of the interview panel.

The panel chose to promote the woman, and Snooks sued for discrimination. His claim rested in part on the ride-along. He also pointed to discrepancies in the handwritten notes the panel took during the interviews.

The court said it was certainly possible that the woman had gained an advantage by spending time with the panelist during the ride-along. That, plus questions about the notes, were enough to send the case forward for a jury trial. (Snooks v. Duquesne Light, No. 08-1689, 3rd Cir., 2009)

Advice: Avoid even the appearance of favoritism by choosing a selection committee with members who don’t have a personal relationship with any candidate. Make sure everyone is asked the same questions and given the same exposure to the members.

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