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Focus on facts when promoting; avoid subjective ‘Better qualified’ justification

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Internal promotions are tricky. Supervisors usually try to choose between two or three known candidates—subordinates with whom they have worked with day in and day out. It’s tempting, then, to choose the employee who seems the most cooperative and the best team player.

Resist that temptation. Instead, have supervisors focus on objective measures such as sales figures and project completion.

Relying on subjective, gut-level statements—“He’s the best qualified”—is dangerous, especially if the department has almost always promoted members of a particular demographic. That gut feeling may be the old boys’ network rearing its subconscious head.

Recent case: Giovanni Veliz was born in Ecuador but moved to the United States in 1979. He joined the Minneapolis Police Department in 1992 and worked as a patrol officer until he was promoted to sergeant. Because he is fluent in Spanish, he worked as a liaison with the Hispanic community and was often assigned to drug and gang duty.

Then he filed an EEOC complaint alleging he had been discriminated against because of his national origin. He even held a press conference announcing his subsequent federal lawsuit.

Shortly after, the police department passed over Veliz when he applied for an open position with the Strike Force, an elite assignment. Instead, it selected a white sergeant with far less experience. It turned out that no minority sergeants had ever made it to the Strike Force.

Veliz promptly added retaliation to his lawsuit.

The police department said it selected the white candidate because he was better qualified and because Veliz was not “a motivated sergeant” who impressed his superiors with his work ethic.

That wasn’t good enough for the court, which viewed the police department’s subjective selection criteria as suspicious. A jury will now decide whether those criteria were just a way to cover up discrimination. (Veliz v. City of Minneapolis, No. 07-2376, DC MN, 2008)

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