Employee Claims Bias When Employer Fails to Hire Inferior Candidate
Posted: January 18, 2024
Hiring the right candidate is always a challenge, but when an applicant claims discrimination, the challenge becomes even more difficult.
Kimberly Barnes-Staples, a Black woman, applied for a position as a Real Estate Director with the General Services Administration (GSA). The company conducted two rounds of interviews, with separate panels in each round, to consider five candidates, including the Staples. Each candidate was asked the same questions, and each panel agreed on the same top candidate.
Staples did not get the job. Instead, it went to the consensus choice: Wittstock, a White woman. Staples sued (Barnes-Staples v. Carnahan), alleging that the GSA's interview process discriminated against her because of her race and sex in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII).
One of her supporting arguments for race discrimination was that the company did not follow its internal anti-discrimination procedures, which allowed it to hire an inferior candidate, and the company crafted a second-round interview question for "Wittstock because she could answer it well based on her experience."
The problem with the Staples' argument about the second panel lobbing softballs to other candidates is that the evidence showed that they drafted the questions before they knew the identities of the second-round candidates. Therefore, how could it have rigged the interviews and shown bias against the plaintiff?
Nothing she points to in the record, however, suggests that the second panel tailored the question to Wittstock. Consequently, there is no evidence that the second question violated the Guideline's prohibition against questions that give a specific candidate an unfair advantage over others.
She claimed that the company should have stuck to a 100% objective scoring system, the absence of which allowed the panel to "manipulate the process" to her disadvantage and in favor of the selected candidate.
While objective metrics mitigate the risk/perception of bias, employers need not score job interviews according to some objective criteria to avoid triggering Title VII liability. Indeed, nothing in Title VII bans using subjective evaluation criteria outright. Instead, employers find trouble when they diverge from their standard hiring practices, mainly when applied differently between protected-class and non-protected-class members.
But when employers treat all candidates the same way — as this one did here — there is no discrimination.
Posted In: Hiring/Recruiting; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII)
Want to know more? Read the full article by Eric B. Meyer at The Employer Handbook