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Employer’s Use of Numerical Scoring/Ranking System for Selecting New Hires Ultimately Bolsters Candidates’ Age Discrimination Case

Sometimes, if you are pursuing a case alleging employment discrimination in the hiring process, the existence of an employer’s formal and objective system for selecting new hires can be a major hindrance to your case. Other times, though, it can actually help. In the recent case of two employment candidates in their 50s and 60s, the latter was true after they were able to prove that the employer passed over them to hire lower-ranking candidates who were in their 30s and 20s. The deviation from the ranking system was enough to give the men a viable claim of age discrimination, according to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

The plaintiffs were among a group of men who challenged the hiring practices at the Delaware River & Bay Authority. The men were seasonal employees who worked for the authority’s ferry services. Starting in 2012, they began applying for permanent positions with the authority.

The authority had a numerical system it used as part of its hiring process. Each candidate was interviewed by the same four interviewers and asked the same questions. Each interviewer scored each candidate on each question. At the conclusion, the employer added up all of the scores to arrive at a sum number for each candidate.

On two occasions, March 2012 and January 2013, the authority’s hires directly correlated to the highest-scoring candidates. In September 2012, though, the authority, in the course of making seven hires, picked the first, second, third, fourth, seventh, eighth, and ninth-highest scoring candidates. Two of the plaintiffs, ages 61 and 53, who were not hired, were the fifth and sixth-highest scoring candidates. The seventh, eighth, and ninth-highest scoring candidates were between the ages of 26 and 35.

The plaintiffs used this information as the basis of a federal age discrimination lawsuit. The authority’s executive director stated that human resources had discretion in making hires, but the numerical system was an important guideline, and, in the case of deviations, a record was made to explain why. With regard to the deviations made in the September 2012 hiring cycle, however, the employer never produced documentation to explain the reasons for the deviation in that instance.

Despite this evidence, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on all counts. However, the appeals court concluded that the 61- and 53-year-old plaintiffs had enough proof to present a viable claim that the employer’s stated reason for refusing to hire them was a mere pretext for age discrimination.

The appeals court pointed out that the same evidence that the employer sought to use in its favor also worked against it. The appeals court agreed with the trial court that the employer’s numerical ranking system was “formal, open, objective, and documented.” It was also something that the employer didn’t follow, at least in part, in making its September 2012 hires.

The deviation from the ranking system in September, coupled with an absence of a written and contemporaneous explanation for that deviation, was “compelling” in this case. The authority followed the ranking system “to a T” in hiring for other positions and in making its hiring decisions in March 2012 and January 2013. The process in September, in which “three applicants in their twenties and thirties leapfrogged two applicants in their fifties and sixties with no documented explanation as to why—is significant evidence of pretext in itself.”

Another key piece of evidence in the plaintiffs’ case was the plaintiffs’ proof that went toward debunking a claim by the executive director that the September deviations were needed to enhance diversity in the employer’s workforce. While the seventh- and ninth-ranked candidates were potentially hired for legitimate diversity reasons, the 26-year-old eighth-ranked candidate was, just like the 61- and 53-year-old plaintiffs, a white male. This proof weakened the credibility of the diversity claim.

Given all of this evidence, the employer was not entitled to summary judgment, and the employment candidates were entitled to continue pursuing their case.

If you believe you’ve been a victim of age discrimination, the skilled New Jersey age discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates are here to help. Our team has been assisting employees with discrimination actions in both state and federal courts for many years. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation with one of our skilled and experienced attorneys to find out how we can help you get results.

More blog posts:

What a Federal Age Discrimination Case from Pennsylvania Can Impart to New Jersey Employers and Employees, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, June 28, 2017

Third Circuit Allows Group of Over-50 Workers to Pursue Their Federal Age Discrimination Case, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, June 7, 2017

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