Sunday, November 8, 2009

Think you know who's legally protected?

A week or so ago, I would have answered "yes" to this, now I'm not so sure. For years I've been training managers which classes of people are protected and highlighting the fact that straight white males under 40 were pretty much the final unprotected group. Now, that's changing.

In a recent case here in Michigan, Gorbe v. TCF Bank, the plaintiff needed to prove that he was in a protected class. However the court ruled that: "all employees are inherently members of a protected class because all persons may be discriminated against." Wow.

So what happened in Gorbe? Mr. Gorbe, a caucasian, argued that Ms. Habbas-Nimer, of Middle Eastern descent, got a job assignment that he wanted. He believes she got the assignment because of her ethnic heritage and because their bank is located in Dearborn, MI an area with a large Middle Eastern population.

As a white male who used to be under 40, I certainly haven't advocated that anyone discriminate against this group. However, it was comforting to believe that there was one safety zone for making employment decisions - kind of like when I play the board game "Sorry" with my kids, where you can land, be safe, and not have to go back to start.

Usually the managers that I've worked with have been pretty good about not discriminating based on the traditional protected classes. What I have had to fight is the urge for them to give preference to their golf and fishing buddies. Perhaps if Mr. Gorbe really wants to climb the ladder at TCF Bank, what he needs are some good golf lessons.

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