Discrimination claims associated with hiring and promotion are often very difficult to prove. If the only evidence you have of discrimination is the comparison of qualifications for a particular job, it will certainly be an uphill battle. In fact, standing alone, evidence of qualifications is not enough to show pretext (i.e., that your employer's reason was really discriminatory); however, if you have additional evidence to add to the comparative qualifications, you may still have a case. For instance, evidence that the interview process itself was manipulated can be compelling evidence to support your claim.
Evidence of Discrimination Found in the Interview Process
A 58-year-old, female scientist with several disabilities applied for an internal promotion with the U.S. Department of the Interior. She was rejected in favor of a younger woman who was not disabled. She was also denied the chance to apply for two other promotions. Her claim is that the application process for those positions was scheduled while she was on vacation and otherwise unavailable. She filed a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit, claiming gender, disability and age discrimination.
Employer's Argument: The Employee with the Best Qualifications Was Promoted
The Department of the Interior moved to have the case dismissed, arguing that the plaintiff could not prove she was more qualified than the successful candidate. Not only did the employer claim the successful candidate had superior qualifications, but she also "impressed [the interviewer] greatly that she was the kind of person who could come into OAS and provide the leadership that was so sorely lacking." They used an interview "matrix" which summarized the candidate's interview results. One specific complaint they had was that the plaintiff was unable to answer a question regarding disciplinary problems.
Was the Interview Process Manipulated?
With the employer relying heavily on the interview responses of the two candidates, the plaintiff replied that not only did she have superior qualifications, but she was also not asked the interview questions. Specifically, she claimed she was never asked the question about disciplinary problems. Also, she demonstrated numerous inconsistencies between the employer's claims of how the interview process was conducted, and what really took place. Through this evidence, the employee attempted to show that the case involved a manipulation of the interview process or a subsequent cover-up.
Qualifications Plus Manipulation Equals Pretext
In the end, the court decided that evidence of superior qualifications alone was not enough to survive summary judgment. The employee did not have sufficient evidence that the disparities in qualifications were of such prominence that no reasonable person exercising impartial judgment could have chosen the other candidate over her; however, the court did find that she provided competent evidence that the interview process was manipulated to her disadvantage.
As for the two positions the plaintiff was not given a chance to apply for, the court found that, although the timing was inconvenient, it was undisputed that she never applied for them. Nor was there evidence that she was actually prohibited from applying. The department's method of advertising was not discriminatory. With these facts in play, the summary judgment was granted.
Facing Discrimination? Let Us Help
Though prohibited under employment law, discrimination is an unfortunate reality in many workplaces. If you feel your employer has discriminated against you, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact Michel | King Michel & Kingtoday. You can reach our Birmingham employment law attorneys by filling out an online case evaluation form or by calling our office at (205) 265-1880.