You can’t promote everyone — managers frequently have to say no to qualified candidates, simply because they aren’t the best. Just make sure when that happens that they’ve the documented the real reason.
An African-American woman sued after being denied a promotion. The employer, a fire department, had a three-step process for promoting employees to captain:
- Employees meeting minimum requirements took a written test
- Those who passed took a job simulation test, and
- A group of managers met to discuss the top three candidates and chose the best.
Twice the woman made it to the last step, but lost out to white males. According to her, it was because of her race and gender. She argued she had more relevant experience than the promoted employees, including several stints as acting captain.
The department claimed the group of managers had concerns about her performance and “interpersonal skills.”
The problem: The managers didn’t keep any record of the discussion, so the department couldn’t prove to the court the real rationale behind its decisions.
On the other hand, the employee presented recent performance evaluations that were consistently positive. The judge ruled in her favor.
Lesson: The employer had a multi-part decision-making process, but missed a critical step.
Without proper documentation, courts will be more inclined to believe the employee’s side of the story. That’s especially true when it comes to hiring and promotion decisions, which can be highly subjective.
Cite: Wesley v. Arlington County