Almost every US university states on its job advertisements that the university is an equal opportunity employer. Based on federal law, this means that applicants not be judged by their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

What is the guarantee for this fair strategy in action? If the committee is influenced by negative personal views to underestimate the qualifications of an applicant, how can s/he prove/appeal/claim/complain?

For example, certain criteria are given for an academic position. If an applicant believes that the winner of this competition (the one who is finally appointed) is less qualified than her/him, how can s/he claim that the selection was not equal opportunity in practice?

How can one detect/prove this violation?

How does one proceed in case of a possible violation?

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    Welcome to AC.sx. I think this is an excellent question that is well worded. I also do not think it is really specific to academia and therefore off-topic.
    – StrongBad
    Mar 6, 2013 at 10:39
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    What about migrating the question to workplace.stackexchange.com? Mar 6, 2013 at 11:39
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    @Zenon yes but the diversity (thus, the need for EE) of applicants for faculty positions is much higher than government jobs.
    – Googlebot
    Mar 6, 2013 at 12:29
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    I think the question can be salvaged (i.e. made more on-topic) if one added the perspective of how equal opportunity principle is enforced in academic recruitment. Does the OP agree with this?
    – posdef
    Mar 6, 2013 at 15:07
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    Despite my answering the question, as it stands it does belong on workplace.SE. If it is retooled as @posdef suggests, then it can stay. Particularly for example, "How does EEO impact the search process for academic positions?"
    – Ben Norris
    Mar 6, 2013 at 15:56

1 Answer 1


Being an equal opportunity employer means that the institution abides by the US federal law on Equal Opportunity - basically that the employer cannot consider race, color, religion, sex, or national origin when making personnel decisions. Additional protected classes, such as age, have been added to Equal Opportunity over the years. Equal Opportunity does not force an institution to hire someone they would rather not hire on the basis of being a member of a protected class, but it means they cannot artificially exclude that candidate. Equal opportunity means that all applications must be evaluated fairly. It does not mean that the best candidate on paper always gets the job.

This is in contrast to Affirmative Action, which in the US is "positive discrimination". In other words, the institution is forced to artificially maintain diversity in its staffing if it does not happen naturally. Affirmative action can mean that you would have to hire your second (or third) choice over your first choice to maintain diversity.

Edit - to address some comments.

From the perspective of an applicant, EO violations can difficult to prove, and the burden of proof is usually on the applicant. Most of the information collected during a hiring process is not (and never will become) public. It is shredded/deleted once the position is filled. An applicant's on paper qualifications are nearly impossible to know, unless you are a close acquaintance of the person. The CV that person posts on their website might be abbreviated, incomplete, or out-of-date.

Additionally, most hiring committees often consider important intangibles that are assessed during the interview. Academic positions are different from positions elsewhere. Most academic committees are assuming that they are hiring a person who will stay at that institution, get tenure, etc. They need to assess if the candidate is likely to do so, if the candidate is likely to thrive in the current culture of the department, if the candidate will get along with the faculty personalities, if the candidate is likely to start looking for something bigger and better five-ten years later, if the candidate is likely to survive the tenure process, if the candidate's specialty/expertise fill a current void in the department, if the candidate is likely to meet service expectations with enthusiasm, if the candidate is amenable to the crappy teaching load he or she will get the first semester, if the candidate's research plans are feasible given other expectations and institutional resources, etc.

You may have more awards, publications, conference presentations, fellowships, grants, letters after you name, or whatever on-paper metric you are using, but you may not have met the needs of the department or institution as well as the other candidate. You may feel more qualified, but someone else was a better fit overall for the position. This question and the answers to this question suggest that applications that look too good may not be considered seriously because hiring committees are afraid of a bad fit.

Alternatively, as may happen, the department you applied to may have always intended to hire the person they hired, but to meet legal and institutional requirements they conducted a search. They interviewed several other strong candidates from diverse backgrounds to satisfy EEO requirements, and then they hired the person they wanted to hire. I won't pretend that such behavior isn't shady, but it can be common, especially for administrative positions, and it is legal. The best way for a hiring committee to prove they are following EEO guidelines is to interview a diverse array of qualified candidates.

To allege that your application was artificially rejected because of your membership in a protected class, start by getting a lawyer. Don't risk jeopardizing your case by inadvertently proceeding without one. Then, do whatever your legal counsel advises. That is what they are for. The only real proof that the hiring committee discriminated against you is if no members of your protected class were interviewed. If you were interviewed, that means they either 1) considered you a strong candidate or 2) went out of their way not to exclude you. Either way, you have almost no case. It may make you angry if the second thing happened, but there is little you can do except to warn people you know away from applying at that institution. If they discriminate against you because you are not the one person they really want for the job, it is not illegal, it just sucks.

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    Even though it's good information I am not sure if your answer (as it stands) addresses the principal question by the OP: "What is the guarantee for this fair strategy in action? If the committee is influenced by negative personal views to underestimate the qualifications of an applicant, how s/he can prove/appeal/claim/complaint?"
    – posdef
    Mar 6, 2013 at 16:20
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    @posdef - I agree. I have updated my answer.
    – Ben Norris
    Mar 7, 2013 at 2:34
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    The only real proof that the hiring committee discriminated against you is if no members of your protected class were interviewed. — I am not a lawyer, but I believe even that is not proof. For the hiring committee I'm on currently, we have to carefully document the criteria we use to decide who to interview. But there is no expectation that we must interview someone in every protected class.
    – JeffE
    Mar 7, 2013 at 7:22
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    @JeffE - Having been on hiring committees, I agree. You can only be expected to interview qualified candidates. The law does not provide equal opportunity for unqualified individuals. However, I have been instructed to consider a diverse array of candidates, and definitely to carefully document the criteria and decision-making process.
    – Ben Norris
    Mar 7, 2013 at 12:04
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    @David - Instead of asking about visas and citizenship, I have been instructed to ask if the candidate is legally permitted to work in the United States. Then, after the interviewing is over, Human Resources can seek for each candidate the proper verification.
    – Ben Norris
    Sep 20, 2014 at 21:46

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