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Use shared, objective criteria when determining promotions

It has been over 50 years since the passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but some companies are still running into trouble. Employers are finding themselves liable for discrimination when they treat men and women differently in promotion decisions. Employers can limit their liability for discrimination by adopting objective standards that apply equally to each gender.

A couple of lawsuits highlighted recently by the Society for Human Resource Management give concrete examples of this problem. Both occurred at vehicle dealerships in another state and both were taken up by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The first one was settled recently. At a Chevrolet dealership, a female assistant parts manager sought a promotion to parts manager. She had 10 years of experience and was even told she was the most qualified applicant. However, she was told she could not even apply because the job "needed a man."

That decision cost the dealership $150,000, along with three years of annual training on the subject of nondiscriminatory recruitment, interviews and hiring.

On top of that, the general manager of the dealership was ordered to deliver, in person, a message to the entire workforce about the importance of diversity and equal employment opportunity.

The second lawsuit was filed in August. In that case, a female sales manager at a motorcycle dealership applied for the position of general manager. She was considered, but the dealership made her participate in a mentorship program in order to get the job. As part of the program, she wrote book reports and presented letters of appreciation to her co-workers. She was also supposed to meet regularly with the organization's vice president, although the man rescheduled or failed to appear on a regular basis.

The problem with this was that men weren't required to engage in the mentorship program. Between 2012 and 2015, the EEOC says, nine male candidates were promoted to general manager -- and none of them had to write letters of appreciation.

Title VII applies to every aspect of employment, including:

  • Recruitment, hiring and firing
  • Pay and benefits
  • Job assignments and training
  • Promotions, demotions and layoffs
  • Any other term or condition of the job

Employers seeking to avoid liability should ensure they use common, objective criteria when making any decision affecting employees or job applicants. Some subjective criteria, like the ability to get along with others, are probably inevitable. The best defense to a discrimination complaint, however, is to be able to point directly to objective criteria used to make the decision. These include, for example, seniority, past job performance, education and measurable skills. Most important, you should use the same criteria for everyone.

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