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Statements about race may trigger reverse discrimination

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Hiring,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

When it comes to reverse discrimination, comments by senior managers may backfire if others perceive them as encouraging racial preferences.

For example, when a high-level executive comments that the organization needs more black employees in management positions, hiring managers could construe it as authorization to bypass qualified white candidates in favor of black candidates with lesser qualifications.

Recent case: Word got around when the director of field operations for the Michigan Department of Corrections announced at a management team meeting that there were not “enough black people in management” and that the shortage should be corrected.

So when Jerry Howell, who is white, was turned down for several promotions, he sued for discrimination.

In pretrial hearings, the Department of Corrections explained that the director of field operations wasn’t part of the formal hiring process. But the court allowed the case to proceed. It reasoned that the comments could have been interpreted as marching orders for those with hiring authority. That made it evidence of reverse discrimination.

When the court went on to review how the interviewing process affected candidate ratings, it said it was shocked to learn that subjective assessments of how well the candidates interviewed were weighted more heavily than education or experience. Coupled with the management comments, the court said there was enough evidence for a jury to consider whether reverse discrimination was taking place. (Howell v. Michigan Department of Corrections, No. 06-CV-11841, ED MI, 2007)

Final note: The court said those suing for reverse discrimination must show “that the defendant is the unusual employer that discriminates against the majority.”

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