A recent case in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals demonstrates how discretionary decision-making can lead to employment discrimination claims. David Dunlap sued his employer for race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Dunlap had 20 years of experience as a boilermaker and boilermaker foreman. He was one of 21 people who interviewed for 10 boilermaker positions. Interviews were conducted by a panel comprised of 5 white managers and one African-American manager. Participants were asked a series of technical and non-technical questions. The interview committee gave individual scores and then reviewed their score sheets together to even out the scores. Dunlap demonstrated that he was rated lower than other applicants that gave the same interview answers or that had the same background. In addition, another African-American employee testified that he was chosen for a position, but he had a history being denied jobs and obtained the promotion only after filing an EEOC charge.
The court found that the assigned weight given to the interview was changed by the questioners to favor a more subjective process, interview questions were not objectively evaluated, and scores were altered to produce a racially biased result. In short, the evidence demonstrated that the process was manipulated to exclude black applicants who were better qualified than the white applicants selected for full-time jobs at the plant, and that Dunlap himself was subjected to disparate treatment. The court thus upheld the judgment for Dunlap for backpay, compensatory damages, and attorneys’ fees. A copy of the case can be read here.
The case demonstrates how discretionary decision can allow for discrimination to occur or give the appearance that discrimination is occurring. Another recent case reported here discusses how a lack of diversity in a company can also give the appearance of discrimination. A lack of diversity at a company led to a $1.4 million verdict in an employment discrimination case, including $455,000 in compensatory damages and $900,000 in punitive damages.