When hiring staff members for an institution’s Title IX program, make sure that the application and interview process is consistent and does not run afoul of other civil rights protection laws. Title IX Coordinators should work closely with human resources and legal counsel to ensure that everyone involved in the application process, including all office staff, knows of, understands, and follows the same policies.
In Taite v. Bridgewater State University, the First Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled on a motion for summary judgment that a reasonable jury could find pretext and discriminatory animus on the basis of race on the part of defendant Bridgewater State University (BSU). This case involves allegations that an administrative assistant in the Office of Equal Opportunity, who was also an interviewer and evaluator of employment applicants, gave Taite, who was a Black applicant for a Staff Associate, Equal Opportunity/Title IX Investigator position, a different set of interview instructions before her on-campus interview than the instructions provided to the successful applicant, who was white. BSU, through its interviewers and evaluators, penalized Taite for following those instructions by scoring her low on several categories and not offering her the position.
The BSU interview process required the top five finalists, four of whom were Black, to give a 15-minute presentation on race and national origin discrimination and discriminatory harassment and to conduct a 20-minute mock interview of a mock female student who alleged sexual harassment by a mock male professor. Three days before her interview, the administrative assistant for the Office of Equal Opportunity emailed Taite instructions about the interview which stated that Taite, among other things, did not have to cover retaliation and did not have to tailor her presentation to the University’s policies or procedures. There was no evidence that the successful candidate received the same email. Taite did not discuss retaliation or tie her presentation to University policies, and she received low and negative remarks as a result, while the successful applicant was rated highly and positively for addressing retaliation and University policies.
Taite brought suit against BSU for race discrimination under Title VII. There is not always evidence of such blatant discrepancies in the treatment of candidates of different races. However, the key takeaways from this case are applicable to all instances of hiring for Title IX programs:
1. Work closely with your institution’s human resources staff and legal counsel to establish application and interview protocols.
2. Make sure that everyone involved in the interview process, including office staff who may answer the phone or otherwise interact with applicants, is aware of the protocols.
3. Limit preparatory/logistical discussions with applicants to one staff person or only a few personnel who know the protocol and know to “stick to the script” when interacting with applicants.
4. If one applicant has been told something about the application or interview process, make sure that all applicants have the same information. If staff members inform one applicant how to prepare for an interview, make sure that all applicants are told the same thing.
5. Follow institutional protocol throughout the interview process. Do not deviate from it for one candidate. If the protocol is changed at some point during the process, communicate the change to all applicants who are still in the application process at that time. Hold all applicants to the same evaluative standards.