Employer-prepared job descriptions can be both a legal blessing and a curse. In the best circumstances, the descriptions can be offered as preexisting evidence of job skills and requirements relied upon to make employment decisions. In other situations, an employer’s deviation from the job description or the description’s failure to accurately reflect the position’s requirements can complicate defense of discrimination claims. A recent Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (which includes North and South Carolina) refuses to hold employers to absolute reliance on the contents of the job description. An African-American Boeing employee filed suit alleging race discrimination for failure to promote. In its defense, Boeing stated that the plaintiff was not the best qualified applicant for each of the positions sought. The plaintiff claimed that this reasoning was pretextual, because Boeing relied upon selection criteria not found in the written job descriptions for the positions.
The Fourth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Boeing. The Court stated that it would be impractical to require employers to document each and every possible skill and consideration for a position in the job description. Hiring managers have the flexibility to consider applicants’ credentials and skills, even if they are not directly reflected in the job description. Even if the plaintiff met the minimum criteria for the job as contained in the description, the employer can prefer candidates with qualifications that exceed the minimum. While job descriptions should be as complete, accurate and updated as possible, they will not serve as the sole legal evidence of job qualifications.