Is "reverse discrimination" still a thing?

A recent study in Australia sought to determine whether “de-identifying” applications – removing any information relating to race and gender – would eliminate the effects of implicit or unconscious bias and “help promote gender equality and diversity in hiring. . . .”

Surprisingly, the study found that non-minorities and males were more likely to be hired when the employers did not have race or gender information. When the employers had race and gender information, they were more likely to hire female and minority (in this case, primarily Asian) candidates.

Some results of the study include the following:

  • Participants were 2.9 percent more likely to select females and 3.2 percent less likely to select males when the employers had gender information.
  • Minority males were 5.8 percent more likely to be selected and minority females were 8.6 percent more likely to be selected when the employers had race information.
  • Male hirers were more likely than female hirers to favor minority candidates.
  • Hirers over age 40 were more likely than younger hirers to favor female and minority candidates.
  • Hirers who worked in Human Resources roles were more likely than other hirers to favor female and minority candidates.

Of course, it is possible that there is a race- and gender-neutral explanation for these results, such as that the voluntary participants guessed the purpose of the study and were trying to please the researchers.

Although we should not place too much stock in one study from a country with very different racial demographics than the United States, the outcome does serve as a reminder for American employers, and particularly federal contractors, that reverse discrimination does exist and violates Title VII. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs have the legal authority to take action against employers who discriminate based on race or sex – even if the race is “Caucasian” and the sex is “male.” On the other hand, an employer will not go wrong by selecting the candidate who is most qualified – in terms of work experience, education, “soft skills,” and other legitimate criteria – for the position, regardless of race or gender.

Robin Shea has 30 years' experience in employment litigation, including Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (including the Amendments Act). 
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