Reduce discrimination risk by having same person hire, fire

If possible, it makes sense to have the same person provide hiring and firing input. Here’s why: Logically, it makes no sense for someone to hire an applicant despite apparent protected characteristics (e.g., gender, race, religion) and then fire that person because of those same characteristics. Although it may not be enough to get a case dismissed, courts will consider it and it may persuade a jury in your favor.

Recent case: Sharon Adelman-Reyes, who is Jewish, claimed she had been denied tenure because of her religion. She once overheard her supervisor comment about her absences on Jewish holidays.

The supervisor had been instrumental in Adelman-Reyes’ initial hire, recommending her for a faculty position. Three years later, the same supervisor recommended her for a tenure track position and then for promotion to associate professor.

That’s when the trouble began. The supervisor suggested that Adelman-Reyes attend more university functions if she wanted tenure. Then, when Adelman-Reyes applied for tenure, the supervisor cited her lack of engagement with the university as a reason to deny tenure.

Adelman-Reyes sued, but the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the lawsuit. It cited two reasons. First, there wasn’t enough evidence of religious discrimination—the only incident was a stray comment about religious holidays. Second, it reasoned that because the same supervisor recommended hiring and promoting Adelman-Reyes, it wouldn’t make sense for her to harbor or act on religious-discrimination sentiments. (Adelman-Reyes v. Saint Xavier University, No. 06-2284, 7th Cir., 2007)

Final note: In your efforts to achieve a perfectly nondiscriminatory workplace, don’t worry that an occasional stray comment may be misinterpreted. It takes more than a comment about religious holidays to make a religious-discrimination lawsuit.