July 7, 2011

Mean guys finish last: temperament as a job qualification

Posted in Color, Discrimination, Interviewing, National Origin, Race tagged , , , , , , , , , , , at 9:10 am by Tom Jacobson

Bad temperament during the application process can be used as the reason to reject a candidate, according to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Last August I commented the case of Amini v. City of Minneapolis.  The case centers around Hamid Amini, who was a police officer candidate at the Minneapolis Police Department.  The hiring process at the MPD included oral and written examinations, fitness and psychological testing, background checks, and interviews.  During an interview, Amini became agitated, argumentative, frustrated, and demanding.   Because of its concerns over Amini’s temperament, the city did not hire him.

Amini sued the city under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, claiming that he was discriminated against on the basis of his national origin, race, and color.  He also claimed race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. Section 1981.

Last summer, the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota, Judge Donovan W. Frank presiding,  dismissed Amini’s lawsuit.  Judge Frank held that while Amini may have been minimally qualified for the job, the city’s reason for rejecting him (his apparent bad temperament) was a legitimate non-discriminatory reason.  Judge Frank also rejected Amini’s argument that the city’s reason was a pretext for discrimination.

Amini appealed his case to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, and in a July 5, 2011 decision authored by Circuit Judge Roger Wollman, the appellate court affirmed Judge Frank’s decision.

While the Amini case reinforces the principle that an employee’s or applicant’s temperament can be considered when making decisions about that person’s employment, personality traits should be considered with great caution.  Such traits tend to be subjective and are difficult to prove.  Indeed, Judge Wollman cautioned against the use of subjective criteria because they can be easily fabricated.  And, what might be an important personality trait in one job might be irrelevant in another.  Without solid evidence, relying on temperament may not be a good defense to a discrimination claim.  However, in situations where candidates’ objective qualifications are comparable, the mere use of subjective criteria, such as temperament, does not create an inference of discrimination.

For more information about this post, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2011 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson, PA

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