Never base hiring decisions on stereotypes

Here’s an important warning for managers with the power to influence hiring decisions: Repeating stereotypes about applicants invites discrimination lawsuits, as a recent case shows.

Recent case: Yolanda, who is black, was a tenured professor at the University of Illinois. While she was at an academic conference, she met a representative from the University of Minnesota and mentioned her interest in joining the faculty there. He asked her to send her curriculum vitae and other supporting materials and said he would pass them on to his dean even though there were no openings at the time.

Then Yolanda’s husband was transferred to Minnesota. Yolanda continued working at the University of Illinois while pursuing a position at the U of M. During discussions with various deans, she learned they had recently hired another black professor under a diversity initiative—and were concerned that the rest of the faculty might object to hiring a second black academic. Still, Yolanda was offered a temporary assignment, which she accepted.

When that assignment was up, one of the hiring deans approached Yolanda and advised her that she needed more academic publications on her CV. The dean told Yolanda she could not be put forth before the faculty because “as an African American woman, she was held to a higher standard.”

Yolanda never received a tenure-track faculty position, but was instead placed in a series of administrative roles.

Hiring for Attitude D

Yolanda sued, alleging that the statement and other similar ones were direct evidence of race discrimination—that is, proof that Yolanda had been held back because she was being held to a higher standard than academics who are not black.

The court agreed that she had a case and let her lawsuit move forward. (Majors v. Regents, Court of Appeals of Minnesota, 2018)