Don’t like applicant’s looks? Think twice

When Peter Wu answered a want ad for an experienced electrician, Personnel Manager Ann Grissom passed him through to be interviewed by Maintenance Foreman John Groat.
By Raymond Dreyfack September 1, 1998

When Peter Wu answered a want ad for an experienced electrician, Personnel Manager Ann Grissom passed him through to be interviewed by Maintenance Foreman John Groat. Groat scanned his employment application, asked him a couple of questions, and turned him down.

“You don’t have the experience we need.”

Wu appeared surprised, seemed about to question Groat’s decision, but thought better of it.

Next day Groat hired Thomas Hart, a black applicant, for the job. Hart was scheduled to start the following Monday.

When Wu heard that Hart had been hired, he appeared in the personnel manager’s office. “I happen to know Tom Hart very well,” he told Mrs. Grissom. “I worked with him at another plant. He’s a nice guy, but I have far more experience than he does. I was Grade I, he was Grade II. I don’t see why Mr. Groat turned me down.”

Grissom reviewed both men’s applications.

“Wait here,” she instructed Wu. “I’ll talk to Mr. Groat.”

Grissom told Groat, “This applicant makes a good point, John. Wu appears much better qualified than Hart. Why did you reject him?”

Groat frowned. “I don’t know. Something about him sorta bothered me. I just didn’t like the guy’s looks.”

“That’s exactly what concerns me, the fact that he’s oriental. Looks have nothing to do with qualifications. This smacks of prejudice.”

“No way! If I was prejudiced, would I have hired a black?”

Grissom wasn’t convinced. “I’m going to take this up with Mr. Burroughs.”

Question : Should the hiring decision be changed?

Burroughs’ verdict: After reviewing both applications, Plant Engineer Henry Burroughs agreed with the personnel manager that Wu’s rejection indicated possible bias. He told Groat, “Your decision should be reversed in favor of Wu. A person’s looks should not be a factor in any hiring decision, especially where another applicant’s qualifications are decidedly better.”