A case currently in Oregon courts, Devi v. Oregon Department of Corrections, asserts the importance of consistent interviewing to avoid discriminatory practices. The plaintiff, Harish Devi, began working as a corrections officer at Oregon Department of Corrections’ Shutter Creek Correctional Institution (SCCI) in 1995. In 2011, Devi was one of thirty-two employee referred for consideration for promotion to sergeant. Evidence was presented that the last promotion of a minority officer to sergeant at SCCI was in 1990. Devi was born in Fiji and practices Hindu, though he made it to the final round of promotion interviews with nine other candidates, all of whom were Caucasian. Devi did not receive a promotion.
SCCI officials claim that Devi was not promoted based on poor performance in the final round of interviews, which took place in front of a panel. The interviewees received a list of eight questions and were instructed to answer the questions when ready. The panel specifically noted that Devi failed to follow instructions because he did not give the panelists an opportunity to talk in between his answers and that he showed a reluctance to accept a promotion to sergeant because it required he work a less desirable schedule and lose seniority. The panelists ranked him fifth, seventh, eighth, and tenth out of ten. Because they said there was a valid, non-discriminatory reason for denying him a promotion, SCCI moved that the court award them summary judgment and drop the claim against them.
Possibility of Pretext
Sometimes, when an employer gives a seemingly valid reason for an adverse employment decision, evidence may show that there are other pretextual, and possibly discriminatory, reasons for the decision. In this case, the court looked to evidence regarding the consistency of the interview process to determine that pretext was possible.
Devi presented adequate evidence to show there were irregularities between his interview and the other candidates. For example, he showed evidence (disputed by SCCI) that all the other candidates except for him received instructions to wait for panelists to respond before moving on and answering the next question. Devi asserts that he did not receive those instructions, which is why he did not allow time in between questions for the panelists to speak. This failure to wait was held against him in the panelists’ review. Furthermore, another candidate also acknowledged in his interview that the sergeant position would require a less desirable schedule and lack of seniority. However, this candidate was consistently ranked higher and was ultimately promoted. Because of these arguments, combined with the lack of minority sergeants since 1990, the court denied SCCI’s request to drop the case. The court stated that there is sufficient evidence to possibly convince a jury that Devi was ranked lower by panelists for discriminatory reasons.
If you have suffered discrimination in the workplace or believe you have had a discriminatory interview experience, contact the lawyers at HKM employment law today.