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A federal appeals court on Wednesday overturned a lower court and reinstated a race discrimination charge filed by an unsuccessful applicant for a university’s equal opportunity office, in a case in which the single white applicant among the finalists was selected over four black applicants.
A major issue discussed in the opinion issued by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston in Brenda K. Taite v. Bridgewater State University et al. is that Ms. Taite was apparently given different instructions than the successful applicant on how to prepare for her oral interview, which was a key issue in her failure to be selected for the position of staff associate, Equal Opportunity/Title IX investigator at the Bridgewater, Massachusetts university.
Before her interview for the position, an administrative assistant for BSU’s Office of Equal Opportunity, who was also one of the evaluators invited to observe the on-campus interviews, sent Ms. Taite an email saying she did “not need to cover retaliation” and that there was no need to tie her presentation into BSU’s policies during the interview.
In later evaluating her performance during that interview, it was mentioned that unlike the successful applicant, Ms. Taite had failed to mention retaliation. The successful applicant was also praised for making her presentation applicable to BSU.
Ms. Taite filed suit against the university in U.S. District Court in Boston alleging she was not hired for the position because of her race, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The lower court granted the university summary judgment dismissing the case, which was overturned by a unanimous three-judge appeals court panel.
“Because (the winning candidate) discussed the same topics Taite was instructed she did not need to discuss, a reasonable jury could conclude BSU did not give (the other candidate) the same instructions as Taite,” the ruling said.
“On a related note, because the evaluators praised (the other candidate) for the very reasons they criticized Taite, a reasonable jury could also conclude BSU did not tell the evaluators” that Ms. Taite and the other candidate received different sets of instructions.
A jury could also conclude that because the administrative assistant, who worked for the university’s Director of Equal Opportunity, and none of the evaluators, other than the administrative assistant, “knew about the different set of pre-interview instructions the hiring process was arguably rigged by the Office of Equal Opportunity” in the successful applicant’s favor.
A reasonable jury could conclude BSU’s reason for not hiring Ms. Taite was pretextual, and there is also sufficient evidence for it to infer “discriminatory animus,” the ruling said, in vacating the lower court’s ruling and remanding the case for further proceedings.
“We are pleased with the First Circuit’s decision and grateful that Ms. Taite will have the opportunity to present her case at trial,” said her attorneys, Christopher D. Belelieu, a partner with Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP in New York, and Yotam Barkai, senior associate with Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP in New York, in a statement.
An attorney with the Massachusetts attorney general’s office, who represented the university, did not respond to a request for comment.
In February, a federal appeals court said a lower court judge failed to give a plaintiff in a discrimination case filed against Texas universities a fair hearing, and remanded the case with instructions another judge should consider the litigation.
Changing recruiting behaviors and recognizing bias are crucial for making strides toward creating a diverse and inclusive insurance industry, said experts at a Wednesday session at the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc.’s 2021 conference, which was held virtually.