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Don’t confuse education with qualifications

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Hiring,Human Resources

One way for a candidate to prove discrimination in hiring or promotion is to show that he is so much better qualified than other candidates that there should have been no doubt about who got the job. Some candidates mistakenly believe that means if they are the best educated, they win.

That’s simply not true. Sometimes, education is largely irrelevant to a job and won’t count for much of anything, much less automatically placing the candidate at the top of the best-qualified list.

Recent case: Martin, who is of West Indian descent and is from the island of Granada, worked as a painter for the Parks Department of New York City. After eight years on the job, he applied for an open spot as a supervisor of painters. He figured he was a shoo-in since he certainly was the best-educated painter in his department. Martin had earned a master’s degree in political science and international relations.

But a university education wasn’t a job requirement. Instead, a panel was looking for candidates with excellent attendance records. Martin was ranked fourth out of four candidates before his interview.

A panel asked all the candidates the same questions and concluded that the candidate who was initially ranked third—a white man—was the overall best candidate. He wound up getting the promotion.

Martin sued, alleging he was clearly the best candidate, based on his education level. He contended that there must have been discrimination at work for him not to have been selected.

The court disagreed. Em­­ployers don’t have to give preference to highly educated people if advanced schooling isn’t relevant to the job. In this case, attendance and good performance trumped other attributes, such as holding a master’s degree. (Johnson v. City of New York, No. 09-CV-3980, ED NY, 2013)

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