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Warn bosses: Don’t exclude from ‘inner circle’

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

As the workforce grows more diverse, so do the ranks of supervisors and managers. And a diverse managerial pool can increase the risk of reverse discrimination.

Train all bosses to avoid even the appearance of favoritism. Explain that excluding anyone from an “inner circle” may trigger a lawsuit, especially if those on the “in” list are largely members of the same protected classification as the supervisor or manager.

Something as simple as speaking a common foreign language with select subordinates can trigger a lawsuit.

Recent case: Patricia Hill, who describes herself as “non-Hispanic,” received excellent performance reviews during her many years working for the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). She was expecting a promotion in the near future, until she got a new Hispanic supervisor.

The supervisor, Hill alleged, surrounded herself with other Hispanics. What’s more, Hill said the inner circle frequently communicated solely in Spanish, excluding non-Hispanic employees from the conversations.

Then Hill applied for a promotion, along with a Hispanic male who was a close associate to the supervisor. He got the promotion despite having less experience. Hill sued, alleging age and national-origin discrimination.

The court ordered a trial. It looked at two factors. First, it seemed clear that Hill had more experience than the Hispanic man who got the job, even though the GSA claimed it chose the best qualified candidate. Second, the fact that the supervisor frequently spoke Spanish and thus excluded non-Hispanics from conversations might show that the stated selection reason was pretext for favoring one candidate over Hill based on his ethnicity. A jury will decide the case. (Hill v. GSA, No. 05-2092, DC NJ, 2008)

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