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Proof of Superior Qualifications

Having better qualifications is often considered a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for hiring or promoting one applicant or candidate over another. But what if the applicant or candidate who is not selected claims employment discrimination?

April 12, 2006

Having better qualifications is often considered a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for hiring or promoting one applicant or candidate over another. But what if the applicant or candidate who is not selected claims employment discrimination? How better qualified must the comparative applicants or candidates be to prove or avoid an employment discrimination claim?

   That was the situation involving Tyson Foods Inc. Two black men sought promotions to fill two open shift manager jobs. Two white males were selected instead. Tyson said that the white males were better qualified. The two black men argued that their own better qualifications showed that Tyson’s reasons for not selecting them was pretextual. However, the lower courts concluded that pretext could be established through comparing qualifications only "when the disparity in qualifications is so apparent as virtually to jump off the page and slap you in the face."

   The Supreme Court held that that "jump off the page and slap you in the face" standard was too high, and wrong. According to the Supreme Court, evidence of qualifications may suffice, at least in some circumstances, to show pretext. Rather, "the fact that a court may think that the employer misjudged the qualifications of the applicants does not in itself expose him to Title VII liability, although this may be probative of whether the employer’s reasons are pretexts for discrimination." Ash v. Tyson Foods Inc., 2006 U.S. LEXIS 1816 (February 21, 2006).

    Impact: When choosing applicants or candidates for hire or promotion, employers have wide latitude to define the desirable qualifications. Selecting the better-qualified candidate can often be a good defense. But employers must make sure the qualifications defense holds water. If the rejected candidate is significantly better qualified, employers can end up with the rejected candidate claiming employment discrimination.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

Workforce Management, April 10, 2006, p. 8 -- Subscribe Now!