A recent case from Michigan illustrates that a rejected job applicant seeking to win a discrimination case can’t just show that the employer had prejudices. He or she must also show that such prejudices drove the hiring decision.
The applicant, Daniel Wiegert, interviewed with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan for a position in its “human performance” department.
During the interview, Wiegert sensed things weren’t going well.
He told his interviewers, Valarie Keesee and Steven Weingarden, that while he had a disability related to his past military service that caused him to have a flat affect and lack of outward emotion, he was happy to be there.
He didn’t get the position, but Weingarden gave him feedback in a follow-up call.
According to Wiegert, Weingarden told him he was “emotionless, monotone, like battle-scarred, shell-shocked veteran” and that there was “no way” he would ever be able to work “in the applied world.”
Wiegert sued Blue Cross, alleging violations of the state’s disability rights statute. But a trial judge found insufficient evidence to show he didn’t get the position because of his disability.
The Michigan Court of Appeals agreed, pointing out that while Weingarden’s statements were evidence of “discriminatory animus,” Wiegert still needed to show that this was a “motivating factor” behind him not getting the position. Weingarden’s comments didn’t accomplish this, since Keesee made the final hiring decision and there was no evidence that Weingarden’s biases impacted her choice.
The decision suggests that job candidates have an uphill battle in winning cases like this. Still, “feedback” like Weingarden’s leave employers vulnerable to discrimination suits, so it’s a good idea to enlist an employment attorney to review your interview processes and train your staff on appropriate ways to interact with candidates.