Reverse Discrimination Claims Do Not Always Work in Court Says Employment Attorney Timothy Coffey
Jan 11, 2016
Chicago, IL (Law Firm Newswire) January 11, 2016 – While reverse discrimination claims sometimes work, it is rare. Nonetheless, they may still be used as a defense in court.
This unusual case involves a husband and wife professorial team in a touchy hiring situation with the Northern Illinois University (NIU). Common sense may dictate that it is not good form to have a spouse sit on a hiring committee while considering a pool of job candidates that includes her husband. Generally speaking, in an instance such as that, it would be considered to be a conflict of interest.
In fact, NIU’s Board of Trustees policy prohibits spouses and other immediate family members from participating in employment, retention and promotion decisions affecting their relatives.
Nonetheless, the Rahns, hired by the NIU, found themselves in just such a dilemma. Regina Rahn, was hired as a tenure-track assistant professor in the industrial and engineering technology department. Gregory Rahn, husband of Regina Rahn, was hired as a visiting professor in industrial engineering.
During the 2006-2007 school year, another tenure-track assistant professor job became available in the department. Gregory Rahn applied for it. The search committee responsible for choosing a candidate asked Regina Rahn to sit on the committee. Gregory Rahn’s teaching assistant was also on the search committee.
No one apparently mentioned the evident conflict of interest that resulted in Regina Rahn, Gregory Rahn’s teaching assistant, and one other committee member voting to place Gregory Rahn in the top 10 of the second round of applications to be vetted. “It wasn’t until after the meeting that the dean of engineering removed Regina Rahn from the selection committee because she was Gregory Rahn’s wife,” said well-respected Chicago employment lawyer, Timothy Coffey, not involved in the case.
According to Gregory Rahn’s teaching assistant, the dean of engineering also stated when he removed Regina Rahn from the committee that he would not hire a white man (Gregory Rahn is white) if they were able to find a qualified minority candidate.
Given that the hiring process was well underway, the committee then created an evaluation metric to rank candidates. Gregory Rahn was subsequently eliminated from the search and Regina Rahn was asked back to the committee. The dean of engineering subsequently hired Dr. Gary Chen.
After filing an unsuccessful grievance with the NIU, Gregory Rahn took his case to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging various claims, including reverse race discrimination. The dispute went to trial and the judge found in favor of NIU. Gregory Rahn chose to appeal.
“Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (1964) a plaintiff may establish race discrimination or reverse race discrimination, either indirectly or directly,” said Coffey. “If the direct method is chosen, a plaintiff needs direct or circumstantial evidence inferring discrimination was the reason behind an adverse employment action.”
At Gregory Rahn’s trial, he attempted to provide direct evidence that showed discrimination was the intention behind Chen being hired. To that end he used the dean of engineering’s comment that he would not hire a white candidate if a qualified minority one was available and alleged the comment demonstrated he was not hired because he was white (racial discrimination).
Ultimately, the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals said it was the search committee who passed Rahn over, not the dean of engineering and therefore the dean’s comment was not direct evidence of discrimination and reverse race discrimination could not be established under the direct method.
Learn more at http://www.employmentlawcounsel.com/
THE COFFEY LAW OFFICE, P.C.
351 W. Hubbard Street, Suite 602
Chicago, IL 60654
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