The trial court didn’t err when it sided with Walmart in a case alleging that a Black worker’s failure to be promoted to several positions stemmed from race bias (Dandridge v. Walmart Stores Inc., No. 20-12257 (11th Cir., Feb. 10, 2021)).
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a Walmart worker’s argument that he was objectively qualified for a promotion and that a district court erroneously relied on his employer’s subjective evaluations to determine to deny him the position. The worker argued Walmart’s reasons for failing to promote him were based on pretext because the people who were promoted were equally or less qualified than he was.
The appeals court noted that the job descriptions of the positions for which the worker applied asked for the experience he lacked. It also noted that the other candidates had superior qualifications. The worker failed to prove that Walmart’s reasons for not promoting him were “so implausible, inconsistent and contradictory” that a reasonable factfinder could find them inconsistent, contradictory, or unworthy of credence, the court opined.
Employers can’t take legally protected characteristics such as race, color, religion, sex, and national origin into account when making employment decisions, according to U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance. Title VII prohibits employment discrimination on a legally protected characteristic in any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.
Employers that document nondiscriminatory reasons for adverse employment actions may build up a strong legal defense for themselves if a claim finds its way to court.
Employers can also avoid liability for bias and harassment claims if they undertake an investigation. When HR receives a complaint alleging harassment or discrimination, it should act swiftly and follow its investigation process, experts previously told HR Dive. An investigation done in good faith that ends with a “well-reasoned conclusion” is key to avoiding liability for discrimination and harassment claims, experts told HR professionals at a Society for Human Resource Management conference. Even if the ultimate determination turns out to be wrong, an employer may avoid liability if it acted in good faith.
Of course, investigations aren’t necessary for every complaint. But it’s important to carefully review those that might make their way to court, experts have said. And if HR concludes there was misconduct, it’s important to take remedial action reasonably calculated to end the misconduct.