When an employer gives contradictory or inconsistent reasons for action, that can be a strong sign that they’re trying to hide discriminatory behavior.
What Does This Mean?
This is one of the easiest “pre-text” situations to understand. Quite simply, this is when an employer gives a reason for having done something, but then later changes their story to another reason. Another example is when a reason given is clearly contradicted by the facts of the situation.
What Are Some Examples of This?
In the case of Billings vs. Town of Grafton, a woman who worked for the town alleged that she had been sexually harassed by a coworker. The town began an investigation and ultimately Ms. Billings filed a lawsuit against the town, although she still worked there. The town transferred Ms. Billings to a less interesting, less prestigious job in another department against her wishes. The town gave several different reasons for why they did this, but they were inconsistent with each other and with the facts of the case. For instance, one reason was that after the accused had suffered a heart attack, the town offered him an accommodation, to help lower his stress levels, and moving her to another department was part of that accommodation. When the accused left his job, Ms. Billings was not re-instated to her position, and in fact, was barred from going to her old office. The court found that the reasons given for her transfer were indeed a pre-text: she was being retaliated against for making a compliant and later filing a lawsuit over the sexual harassment.
In the case of City of Salem v. MCAD, (which also figures prominently in the “documenting after the fact” example) the court found that in the case of a hiring decision, providing multiple additional reasons to not hire someone later, during the course of litigation, is evidence of a pre-text being used to excuse discriminatory decision making in the hiring process. In this case, a gentleman applying to be a police officer, despite having the highest scores in a performance evaluation, was not treated fairly during the interview process. He was not told what the format of the interview process was, when other applicants had been told. He was not given instructions that other applicants were given. Ultimately, he did not receive the 2nd interview that all other candidates were granted, and was not selected for one of the four open positions.
In the ensuing legal action, the Police Chief explained that he had several good reasons not to hire the gentleman; other officers had had interactions with him that suggested he did not have the right temperament for police work. However, it was found that these “good reasons” had not been properly documented, came well after the events occurred, and also did not excuse the fact that the gentleman had been unfairly treated during the interview process. Because the reasons given for not hiring the gentlemen in question were all different from the original reason given, they were ruled a pre-text, and the court found against the hiring authority.
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