American Sociological Association

Case 09. Nondiscrimination in Hiring Field Workers

Situation

The Armone Institute of Gerontology has received a grant from the Department of Aging to complete a survey of the 55+ population in the state. The survey will provide comprehensive sociodemographic, health, recreational, and financial information about this target group, enabling the state agency to determine social service needs over the next decade. To complete this study, the Armone Institute planned to conduct face-to-face interviews with a sample of elderly randomly selected through a multi-stage cluster technique. To gather the data, the Armone Institute proposed to hire interviewers in a number of regions throughout the state.  Ads were placed in newspapers for experienced interviewers; the Ads noted "equal opportunity employer" as required by the Institute's Affirmative Action Plan. In the process of selecting interviewers for one of the regions where a high percentage of affluent white elderly lived, the senior project investigator argued that two of the candidates (both young, black males) had to be eliminated from the pool. The investigator argued that they would be inappropriate for position given the incompatibility between them and the sample of elderly to be interviewed in the area. The other project investigator felt the elimination of these candidates was discriminatory, since they both had impressive credentials and were experienced interviewers.

Questions

  1. What are the obligations of the Armone Institute as an "equal opportunity employer"?
  2. Are there "bona-fide occupational qualities" that can be taken ; into consideration when hiring interviewers for a study such as the one discussed in this case?
  3. What are the potential consequences to the Armone Institute if they deny employment to someone based on their race, gender and age?

Discussion

The Affirmative Action Plan of the Armone Institute indicates that it will not discriminate in hiring and promotion based on age, gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, and disability status. Furthermore, the Armone Institute, as required under its Affirmative Action Plan, has included the term "equal opportunity employer" in its employment ads. Education and experience are considered legitimate qualifiers for a position and the Armone Institute did specify the need for experienced interviewers. In this particular case involving the interviewing of the elderly, the Armone Institute was faced with a dilemma related to the need to select interviewers who would be "compatible" with the target population so that they would be able to gain access and be welcomed into the homes of the elderly for the interview. One researcher considered young black men as interviewers as incompatible with the affluent white elderly in one area. In essence, this investigator argued that race, age, and gender could be considered "bonafide occupational qualities" for this particular interviewing job. The other researcher was uncomfortable with this interpretation and felt that eliminating the young black males from the candidate pool was discriminatory. If the Armone Institute decides to hire interviewers that are considered to be more "compatible" with the elderly group to be interviewed, everything may work out in their favor. However, there is the potential that the Armone Institute could be sued for discriminatory hiring practices and the courts would make the final decision as to whether or not this is a valid claim.

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