Culture fit and acts of covert discrimination

Frank S. Clowney III

Applicants can be turned down for an open position for countless reasons. From the strength of a resume and relevant work experience to availability and schedule requirements, sometimes it takes very little to differentiate between a group of candidates. Unfortunately, many applicants are passed over for unlawful reasons.

A decade ago, many organizations began searching for the right “fit” or “culture fit” in their applicant pool. The strategy was designed to bring the right person into the organization by examining not only their work history, but also their personality. Often, a group interview would take place or a tour around the facility so the applicant could interact with veteran employees. This was done for the benefit of both the company and the new hire – introducing a new person into an established culture can be a challenging and frustrating experience. For many hiring managers, however, “culture fit” became a subconscious form of discrimination.

Denying an applicant for a new position based on factors such as their beliefs, race, country of origin, lifestyle or personal values can be considered discrimination. Unfortunately, it can be easy for an organization to hide discrimination by claiming the applicant did not match the fit of their company. This is generally considered covert or undercover discrimination. Nearly every form of discrimination could be twisted to match the description of culture fit, including:

  • Race, color, gender, religion or national origin, illegal according to The Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • Age, illegal according to The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967
  • Pregnancy, illegal according to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
  • Disabilities, illegal according to The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

Acts of overtly discriminatory hiring policies can be easy to identify; covert discrimination can be more of a challenge. Unconscious biases can be deep rooted. In fact, a hiring manager attempting to match the established culture of an organization is likely trying to hire someone exactly like them. While this might seem to be an overt act of discrimination, it might be a challenge to prove. If you feel you were unfairly treated or discriminated against, it is wise to discuss your situation with an experienced employment law attorney.