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Track promotion applications to check for bias

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Hiring,Human Resources

You can’t be sure there’s no hidden bias in your promotion process unless you check. Conduct your own informal investigation so you’ll be prepared for possible litigation. That way, if you find a problem, you can fix it before things get out of hand.

Recent case: Claude Grant and several other black employees who worked for a city government unit sued, alleging that, as a group, black employees weren’t promoted after they came on board.

They hired a statistician, who compared the total number of black and white employees with the percentage of each who was in management positions. The plaintiffs claimed that blacks were not properly represented in management positions. That was enough for the trial judge to conclude the city discriminated.

But the city immediately appealed, and asked the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to consider its own statistics. Those stats used only those black employees who actually applied for promotions to management positions and their white counterparts. That number showed no obvious bias.

The 6th Circuit Court reversed the trial judge. It reasoned that the city’s approach was the appropriate one. It said that by lumping all black employees together and concluding that they weren’t proportionally represented in management, the trial court made a fundamental mistake.

Since many black employees held lower-level jobs, they would be unlikely to apply for some man­agement jobs simply because they wouldn’t meet the minimum qualifications. For example, it was ob­­­vious to the court that custodians, painters and secretaries would not be qualified to work as engineers, biologists and chemists unless they were woefully underemployed. It dismissed Grant’s case. (Grant, et al., v. Metro­poli­tan Government of Nashville, No. 10-5944, 6th Cir., 2011)

Final note: It’s easier to defend promotions if you carefully track who applied and what their qualifications were.

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