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Neutral Hiring Policy Did Not Negate Evidence of Manager’s Bias

Exel, Inc. had in place a neutral hiring policy that aimed to give open positions to employees about to be laid off. That policy was challenged by Contrice Travis after a male employee received a position she had sought. The EEOC brought suit on her behalf, alleging sex discrimination in violation of Title VII.

Ms. Travis told her supervisor, Dave Harris, that she wanted to be promoted to a newly vacated supervisory position. However, Mr. Harris instead selected a male employee for the position through the company’s priority transfer practice (“PTP”). Employees applying for a position through PTP were to be given priority over other internal and external candidates, provided the applicants met the minimum qualifications for the position. PTP applicants were not required to be the “best” choice for the position. Even though the company encouraged use of the PTP, managers were still empowered to use their own discretion in selecting candidates.

A jury returned a verdict in favor of Ms. Travis. Upon appeal, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the jury’s verdict against Exel. During the trial, it was shown that Ms. Travis was qualified for the position. The supervisor had a demonstrable history of bias against women. Evidence was provided that he went to some lengths to avoid speaking with female employees during the workday. Ms. Travis testified that when she asked Mr. Harris to consider her for the position, he responded that he “was never going to” promote her. Another manager confirmed that when he suggested promoting Ms. Travis, Mr. Harris had made a similar comment to him. The appellate court found that there was sufficient evidence for the jury to find discrimination with regard to the specific employment decision before it.