Registrar who refused to register same-sex partnerships loses her appeal

In July 2008, a registrar who refused to register same-sex partnerships (under the UK’s Civil Partnership Act 2004) won her Employment Tribunal case against Islington Council who had taken disciplinary action against her.  The July tribunal agreed with Lillian Ladele that the council had unlawfully discriminated against her because of her religious beliefs.  But the Employment Appeal Tribunal has now overturned that decision, and said that the council had not discriminated against her: the reason for their disciplinary action was her conduct in refusing to register civil partnerships, not her religious beliefs.  It said,

In our judgment, the Tribunal has fallen into the trap of confusing the council’s reasons for treating the claimant as they did with her reasons for acting as she did [but]… these are not the same thing at all.  

As I understand it, the key point was that the council would have taken disciplinary action against any employee who refused to register civil partnerships – it would have made no difference whether the employee refused for religious reasons or not.  So the reason for the council’s action wasn’t Ms Ladele’s religious beliefs, it was that she failed to do something she was reasonably asked to do by her employer.  (You can read the full judgment in the pink news)

This decision is a relief for gay rights campaigners in the UK and has been welcomed by Stonewall.

Pre-APA advice to Hiring Committees

As we’ve noted before, there’s a lot of evidence suggesting that nearly everyone is subject to unconscious or implicit bias, and that these biases can have an inappropriate impact on hiring decisions. For example (one among many),

In a national study, 238 academic psychologists (118 male, 120 female) evaluated a curriculum vitae randomly assigned a male or a female name. Both male and female participants gave the male applicant better evaluations for teaching, research, and service experience and were more likely to hire the male than the female applicant

So if you’re hiring this year, you may want to think about how to keep this from happening to you. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Learn about and discuss research on biases and assumptions and consciously strive to minimize their influence on your evaluation. Experimental studies show that greater awareness of discrepancies between the ideals of impartiality and actual performance, together with strong internal motivations to respond without prejudice, effectively reduces prejudicial behavior.

2. Develop evaluation criteria prior to evaluating candidates and apply them consistently to all applicants. Research shows that different standards may be used to evaluate male and female applicants and that when criteria are not clearly articulated before reviewing candidates evaluators may shift or emphasize criteria that favor candidates from well-represented demographic groups.

3. Spend sufficient time (at least 20 minutes) evaluating each applicant. Evaluators who were busy, distracted by other tasks, and under time pressure gave women lower ratings than men for the same written evaluation of job performance. Sex bias decreased when they were able to give all their time and attention totheir judgments, which rarely occurs in actual work settings.

4. Be able to defend every decision for eliminating or advancing a candidate. Research shows that holding evaluators to high standards of accountability for the fairness of their evaluation reduces the influence of bias and assumptions.

5. Periodically evaluate your judgments, determine whether qualified women and underrepresented minorities are included in your pool, and consider whether evaluation biases and assumptions are influencing your decisions by asking yourself the following questions:

a. Are women and minority candidates subject to different expectations in areas such as numbers of publications, name recognition, or personal acquaintance with a committee member?
b. Have the accomplishments, ideas, and findings of women or minority candidates been undervalued or unfairly attributed to a research director or collaborators despite contrary evidence in publications or letters of reference?
c. Are assumptions about possible family responsibilities and their effect on a candidate’s career path negatively influencing evaluation of a candidate’s merit, despite evidence of productivity?

All of the above suggestions are taken from an excellent brochure that Alphafeminist called to our attention, which can be found in its very excellent entirety here. (And there are many more suggestions, and a lot more data, there.)

I think most departments genuinely do want to increase their hiring of women and minorities. But I also think that implicit bias may be impeding these efforts. If I’m right about the former, then departments might want to entertain the possibility that implicit bias is playing this role. And they should be glad to have some suggestions about how to take action against it. With that in mind, I urge you to pass some of this information on to friends and colleagues involved in hiring even if you’re not involved yourself.
Update: As AZ notes in comments, departments should also be careful about weighting pedigree too heavily. If someone comes from a less prestigious pedigree, and has held less research-friendly jobs, but has *nonetheless* managed to get a damned good publication record, surely this is a sign that they will do even better in a more salubrious environment. Such candidates should be viewed as potentially especially promising, rather than getting passed over.