Employers should take a number of factors into consideration when deciding whether someone should be promoted or not. An employer should think about each candidate’s experience, unique skills, attitude, and education, among many other things. But, some factors that should never be taken into consideration is a person’s race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, or disability. These characteristics are referred to as “protected classes” by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and they should never hold someone back in the workplace.

When Is Being Passed Up For A Promotion Illegal?

It’s important to learn when being passed up for a promotion is illegal and when it is just unfair so you know when to take legal action. If someone who does not deserve the promotion gets it over you, this may be unfair, but it’s not necessarily illegal just because that person didn’t deserve it. The difference between unfair and illegal promotions boils down to how the employer decided who to promote.

Let’s say an employer is trying to fill a senior level data analyst position and is choosing from a group of junior level analysts, one of whom is you. The employer chooses another person for the promotion because they believe this candidate has a background that better prepares them for the position than you do. If the person hasn’t been with the company for long or doesn’t have as many years of experience as you do, it may seem as if it’s an unfair decision. But, it’s not illegal since the decision was based on which candidate had a stronger background in the eyes of the employer.

However, if the employer promotes another employee over you because of racial factors, this would be illegal. For example, Asian Americans are often stereotyped as being naturally good at math. If the employer promotes an Asian employee because they believe the employee’s race makes them naturally better at math than others, this is illegal. The assumption about Asian Americans has given this race an advantage in the workplace, and therefore put people of all other races at a disadvantage.

Another example would be an employer who promotes a man over a woman because they believe the man will have more time to devote to the company than the woman, who may have to juggle work and raising kids. This decision would be discriminatory against the female gender, which is prohibited by law.

To put it simply, any time an employer decides who to promote based on a person’s race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, or disability, it is illegal. If the decision is based on other factors, such as work history or educational background, it is legal.

Proving A Promotion Was Illegal

Anyone who has been illegally denied a promotion can seek legal assistance from an employment law attorney. There are ways to seek justice against employers who base these important decisions off of one of the protected classes. But, it’s up to the victim in these cases to prove that the promotion was illegal, not just unfair, and doing so can be difficult.

An employer who is accused of promoting someone for the wrong reasons can try to hide their discriminatory behavior by making up reasons as to why the other person was chosen for the job. In fact, the employer does not really need to get into specifics about why one candidate was better than other. Many employers simply state that the person who was chosen was a “better fit” based on a number of factors.

Victims—with help from their attorneys—can gather evidence that shows the employer had a history of discriminatory behavior. This can be done by gathering emails with discriminatory statements, reviewing personnel records, and interviewing co-workers and clients. For example, let’s say a supervisor sent a female employee applying for the promotion an email asking whether or not she was going to have kids in the future. After responding that she would like to have a family in the future, she is denied the promotion. In this case, this email can be used to prove that the employer was illegally basing the decision off of stereotypes about working mothers not having time for their careers.

Sometimes, it may be appropriate to build a case around the victim’s impressive qualifications. If the victim is obviously far more qualified for the position than the person who was chosen for it, this may be enough evidence to prove the discrimination claim. However, the difference in qualifications must be so distinct that it would be clear to any reasonable employer that one employee was better suited for the job than the other.

What to Do After Being Denied A Promotion

It’s very rare for an employer to openly admit that you were passed up for a promotion for the wrong reason. But, if you have a gut feeling that this is what happened, ask your employer for feedback about your interview. What can you do to make sure you get the promotion next time? What did the other candidate have that you didn’t have? Employers should be more than willing to share this information with you in an effort to help your professional development. But, if an employer is not willing to discuss this information or having a hard time coming up with a response, this could indicate that you were illegally denied a promotion.

Have you been passed up for a promotion for the wrong reasons? If so, seek legal representation from an experienced employment law attorney as soon as possible. Our employment law attorneys at Shegerian & Associates will fight tirelessly to protect your rights in the workplace. Contact us today by calling 1-800-GOT-FIRED.