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Gender Discrimination: Achieving Equality in Job Interviews

Equal employment opportunity laws prohibit employers from discriminating against job candidates and employees based on their gender.

But, gender discrimination has a tendency to surface during job interviews. As seen in the case of Joyce Dennis. (Dennis v. Columbia Colleton Medical Group, 290 F.3d 639 (4th Cir. 2002)), organizations can be found liable for gender-based charges caused by mishandled interviews.

A Case of Gender Bias

When female employee Joyce Dennis applied for a promotion at her employer, Columbia Colleton Medical Group, she did not meet all the requirements of the job description, but her skills closely matched the minimum qualifications. She was even performing some of the job functions on an interim basis while the position was vacant.

During Dennis’ interview with decision-maker, Jennifer Wray, on June 20, 1997, Wray inappropriately commented that Dennis would not be promoted because she was having an affair with one of the hospital’s physicians. Dennis denied the affair and complained about Wray’s conduct to Colleton’s chief financial officer, Jimmy Hiott – who reprimanded Wray then took over the selection process. Hiott chose not to re-interview Dennis. Instead, he interviewed and hired a male candidate, Johnny Bridge, who did not work for the hospital.

Like Dennis, Bridge did not satisfy all of the criteria for the job. However, as a whole, Dennis’ qualifications and skills were superior to Bridge’s. Unimpressed by Hiott’s decision, Dennis quit her job. In 1998, she filed a gender discrimination lawsuit, proving to the District Court that Hiott’s justifications for promoting Bridge were inconsistent, and his decision amounted to discrimination based on Dennis’ gender. After an appeal in-front of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Dennis was eventually awarded $25,000 in compensatory damages for emotional distress, $31,302 in back pay and $104,765.80 in attorney’s fees and costs.

Avoiding the Legal Landmine

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is just one of the federal laws protecting applicants and employees against gender discrimination during hiring, promotions and other conditions of employment. For example, the Equal Pay Act, as well as Title VII, makes it illegal to discriminate based on gender in the payment of wages and benefits. To reduce the possibility of gender discrimination, employers must develop compliant processes, become aware of the legal issues and conduct interviews according to the law. In addition:

  • Identify societal biases, such as stereotypes and generalizations, against men and women and refrain from incorporating them into your policies and practices.
  • Develop a recruitment policy that appeals to a diverse group of applicants.
  • Implement automated tools that simplify screening and testing processes while promoting consistency.
  • Avoid asking illegal questions; limit your inquiries to job-related matters.
  • Evaluate men and women based on their qualifications, skills, and professional value.
  • Thoroughly train interviewers, especially those who are inexperienced, on the interview process.
  • Consult an employment attorney for guidance on creating lawful interview/hiring policies and practices.

In many cases, gender discrimination is unintentional. The National Center for Women and Information Technology states that most organizations make strong attempts to eliminate bias in hiring and promotions. But, unconscious biases – of which we are often unaware – tend to influence practices and decisions, resulting in poor choices and outcomes. To minimize gender bias, organizations must establish impartial standards and hold gatekeepers accountable for hiring and promotion decisions.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided in this blog is for general informational purposes only. Accordingly, Paycom and the writer of the above content do not warrant the completeness or accuracy of the above information. It does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services, or professional consulting. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional tax, accounting, legal or other professional services.