Earlier this month, a Missouri-based healthcare provider sent rejection letters to various female job applicants. While I would normally applaud that practice, these letters expressed the company’s policy of not hiring employees with “ghetto names.”

Yes, you read that right!

While the healthcare provider denies sending the notices—it claims it was hacked by a disgruntled employee—this brings to light the very real issue of name bias. Name bias can take several forms. Generally, it deals with biases towards men’s names over female names and prejudices against “Black-sounding,” “Latino-sounding,” or “foreign-sounding” names.

It’s a Real Thing!

Studies have shown name bias is a real thing. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology revealed employees with easy-to-pronounce names are more likely to receive job offers and promotions. Moreover, job applicants with “white-sounding” names were 50 percent more likely to receive job interviews, job offers and promotions.

There have also been documented cases of individuals receiving more favorable recruitment decisions after changing their names.

Name Bias is a Form of Unlawful Discrimination

While it goes without saying, I would be remiss if I did not point out name bias is a form of unlawful discrimination prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights act, as well as certain state and local laws. Under McDonnell Douglas v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), SCOTUS held a plaintiff state a prima facie case of discrimination by showing four elements: (1) The Employee made an application for the position sought and was qualified; (2) the employee is a member of a Title VII protected group; (3) the employee did not receive a job offer; and (4) the employer continued to look for job candidates with similar qualifications.

If an applicant can establish a prima facie case under this standard, the burden shifts to the employer to advance a non-discriminatory reason for the employment decision.

As with any litigation or EEOC investigation, things can get expensive rather quickly.  Of course, I subscribe to the old adage “the best defense is a good offense.”  Employers should take measures to ensure such biases do not permeate their workplace or hiring practices.

What Can We Do?

I am not going to get into the data breach measures the healthcare provider could have taken to avoid this issue.  We can save that for another blog.  But, let’s talk about some solutions to deal with this name-bias problem:

1. Train management and human resources on recognizing implicit and unintentional biases.

2. Ensure nondiscrimination and harassment policies are specific and address this type of bias.

3. Consider instituting “blind hiring.” This can entail, among other things, redacting candidates’ names from their materials before putting them in circulation.

4. Structure interviews so candidates vying for the same positions are asked the same questions.

5. Make sure your selection criteria is clear and strictly enforced.

6. Keep records as to why certain candidates were chosen for interviews and, ultimately, for the position.

About the Author: Alejandro Pérez is a partner at Jaburg Wilk. Fully bilingual, Alejandro assists employers of all sizes with labor and employment law issues. In addition to representing clients in litigation, Alejandro provides advice and counsel on HR decisions; conducts sensitive workplace investigations; drafts and reviews employment policies, handbooks, and agreements; and trains workforces on a variety of aspects of employment law.

This blog is provided for educational and informational purposes only.  To speak with an attorney, please contact our office at 602.248.1000 or email info@jaburgwilk.com