Finally get that promotion? Get exclusive content, tips and tools to help you excel.
Implicit bias occurs when individuals make judgments about people based on gender, race or other prohibited factors without even realizing they’re doing it.
Is your employee handbook keeping up with the changing world of work? With SHRM's Employee Handbook Builder get peace of mind that your handbook is up-to-date.
Build competencies, establish credibility and advance your career—while earning PDCs—at SHRM Seminars in 12 cities across the U.S. this spring.
#SHRM18 will expand your perspective – on your organization, on your career, and on the way you approach HR. Join us in Chicago June 17-20, 2018
Members may download one copy of our sample forms and templates for your personal use within your organization. Please note that all such forms and policies should be reviewed by your legal counsel for compliance with applicable law, and should be modified to suit your organization’s culture, industry, and practices. Neither members nor non-members may reproduce such samples in any other way (e.g., to republish in a book or use for a commercial purpose) without SHRM’s permission. To request permission for specific items, click on the “reuse permissions” button on the page where you find the item.
A ruling dismissing discrimination claims against the Chicago Board of Education and its unit director for discharging a black curriculum facilitator while retaining a white curriculum facilitator must be reversed based on lack of documentation of the alleged reasons for the decision, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.
Joyce Hutchens alleged that she was discriminated against when the board and Amanda Rivera, the board’s unit director, laid off her and another curriculum facilitator, Deborah Glowacki. The board subsequently reinstated Glowacki, who is white, but not Hutchens, who is black.
Hutchens claimed that her credentials met or exceeded those of Glowacki. While Hutchens previously served at a prestigious Chicago public school, Glowacki taught for several years at a parochial school. Both curriculum facilitators had certification from the national board, although Hutchens had additional certification in various language and business subjects, while no specialized certification was held by Glowacki.
The board presented testimony that Glowacki appeared to have better leadership skills and that Hutchens had had negative interactions with other employees. Additionally, the decision-makers were seemingly unbiased because Rivera, who is Puerto Rican, had hired Hutchens but it was Alan Anderson, a black human resource administrator, who decided to lay her off. The board further presented testimony that the curriculum facilitators’ supervisor had evaluated Glowacki’s performance as better than that of Hutchens, and it described reports of tardiness and disputes with colleagues by Hutchens. Based on this evidence, the trial court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal of Hutchens’ discrimination claims before trial.
The 7th Circuit, however, criticized the lack of documentation produced in support of the board’s assertions. In reviewing the curriculum facilitators’ credentials, the 7th Circuit credited Hutchens’ testimony and evidence of various awards she had received and a project she had spearheaded. Furthermore, it discounted evidence of disharmony between Hutchens and another employee who had disagreed over noise levels in a shared room and it questioned the lack of documentation of Hutchens’ purportedly poor evaluation. The 7th Circuit further noted that Hutchens had drafted her appeal pleadings without counsel, and it praised the quality of her writing in the pleadings.
While the board and Rivera claimed that even a mistaken decision by officials could not alone establish discrimination, the 7th Circuit ruled that a reasonable jury could interpret the errors it perceived in weighing the curriculum facilitators’ credentials as evidence of discrimination. As a result, the 7th Circuit reversed the trial court’s decision dismissing the case at summary judgment and required the trial court to proceed with a trial on Hutchens’ discrimination claims.
Hutchens v. Chicago Board of Education, 7th Cir., No. 13-3648 (March 24, 2015).
Professional Pointer: Employers should carefully and diligently record and retain documentation supporting their employment decisions. Even a seemingly innocent failure to keep documentation could be interpreted as evidence of racial bias, allowing a claim to proceed to trial absent other traditional evidence of discriminatory motivation.
Jeffrey L. Rhodes is the managing partner of the civil division of Albo & Oblon LLP, a business and employment law firm in Arlington, Va.
You have successfully saved this page as a bookmark.
Please confirm that you want to proceed with deleting bookmark.
You have successfully removed bookmark.
Please log in as a SHRM member before saving bookmarks.
Please sign in as a SHRM member before saving bookmarks.
Please purchase a SHRM membership before saving bookmarks.
An error has occurred
Recommended for you
SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition
SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 3,200 companies