Most employees are familiar with the proposition that for them to prevail in a discrimination case they must prove several things, including that they were “qualified” for the position sought (and denied). Most people equate being “qualified” with “possessing the qualifications to perform the job” and this is correct. But there is more. In addition to being technically competent, the employee must also be eligible to apply for the position.
In a recent decision, a Physician’s Assistant (“PA”) voluntarily chose to transfer from a hospital Department of Surgery to its Department of Medicine in order to avoid impending “on call” obligations. When a Lead PA position was posted in the Department of Surgery it was hospital policy to offer it first to PA’s within the Department (of which there was one) and absent interest, to open the position to other Departments. When the Lead PA position was offered to and accepted by the lone PA in the Department of Surgery the former Department PA sued on a variety of grounds, including race and gender discrimination.
After a jury initially found for the disappointed PA, a reviewing court found that the jury’s determination that he was qualified for the position found no support in the record. The court framed the relevant inquiry as “whether he would have been eligible to apply as a non-departmental candidate when there was an internal candidate willing to take the . . . position.” The court answered this question in the negative and judgment was entered in favor of the defendant hospital.
Parenthetically, the court also found that the plaintiff PA did not suffer any adverse employment action and that the circumstances of the case did not give rise to an inference of gender discrimination. Noteworthy, too, was the court’s observation that “unfairness is not the equivalent of gender discrimination.” The court’s sole concern is “whether unlawful discriminatory animus motivates a challenged employment decision.” Thus, a successful plaintiff must produce evidence from which such motivation can reasonably be inferred.
The employment law attorneys in the Westport, Connecticut office of Maya Murphy, P.C. have extensive experience in the negotiation and litigation of all sorts of employment-related disputes and assist clients from Greenwich, Stamford, New Canaan, Darien, Norwalk, Westport and Fairfield in resolving such issues. Please contact our Westport office at 203-221-3100.
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