"Although Title VII was passed more than 50 years ago, women nationwide continue to be passed over for promotion because of their sex," says one EEOC regional attorney.
Passing over qualified candidates based merely on their sex violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits most gender-based discrimination. To avoid potential liability for sex discrimination, employers would be advised to adopt objective criteria for promotions that are used to evaluate every candidate.
A recent Title VII lawsuit filed by the EEOC in Florida makes the point. A female sales manager at a motorcycle dealership was seeking a promotion to general manager. She was told that, unlike male applicants for the promotion, she would have to participate in a mentorship program in order to be considered. The program required activities such as writing book reports and preparing letters of appreciation for co-workers.
In another case, a female assistant parts manager at an auto dealership had been in her position for 10 years when she applied for a promotion to parts manager. Although the position was vacant and she was the most qualified candidate, she was allegedly barred from applying because the job "needed a man."
The EEOC obtained a settlement of $150,000 in that case. In addition, the settlement requires the company to undertake three years of annual training on nondiscriminatory recruiting, interviewing and hiring. Plus, the dealership's general manager is required to personally address the workforce about the importance of equal opportunity and diversity, including gender diversity, in hiring and promotions.
These women are not alone. In fiscal year 2017, the EEOC received 1,162 charges that promotions were denied on the basis of sex.
Examples of objective criteria
It is acceptable to use some criteria that must be assessed subjectively, such as people skills, as long as the criteria are non-discriminatory. However, the more objective your hiring or promotion criteria, the less likely you are to face liability because you will be able to point to documented facts.
Try to base your criteria on measurable items that are genuinely required for the job. Some examples include:
- High performance in existing position
- Skill set corresponding to at least the minimum requirement for the new job
- Knowledge of company operations and procedures
- Past management experience or willingness to take a management class
- Ability to learn quickly and adapt to changing responsibilities
- Ability to respond to challenges and integrate feedback
Whenever you hire or promote someone to a desirable position, other candidates may be disappointed. Being able to point to objective criteria that align closely with the actual job requirements can address the issue while limiting your exposure to liability.