The court considered whether hiring someone with arguably inferior qualifications, combined with the Company’s failure to retain and produce the candidate applications, was sufficient to have the matter argued in front of a jury.
The applicant applied along with approximately 60 other applicants for a position with the defendant Company. The Company chose to hire a 40 year old applicant who possessed what the Company found to be superior qualifications (and which the plaintiff believed to be inferior qualifications). The applicant was not interviewed. Unfortunately for the Company, the employment applications of the candidates could not be located, which the plaintiff argued was evidence that the employer had tried to conceal pertinent fact regarding his rejection. The court found that the Company had presented a legitimate business reason for his rejection (the other applicant was more qualified), so the burden shifted to the plaintiff to establish that the Company’s reasons were a pretext for age discrimination. His attorney argued, in part, that (1) his client had superior qualifications, and (2) the Company’s inability to produce the applications received showed that the company had something to hide.
Courts generally defer to the legitimate business decisions of employers in determining which applicant is best qualified for the job. Here, as in most instances, some candidates are stronger in some areas than others. In this case, the applicant/plaintiff was found to have superior qualifications in some areas, but the court also found the successful applicant possessed other advantages. In concluding that the plaintiff had failed to establish that the Company’s reasons were pre-textual, it found that his “qualifications cannot be reasonably viewed as ‘vastly superior’….[and] were not ‘so superior to those of the person selected…as the make the selection of that person unreasonable….” As for the Company’s failure to produce the applications, the court found that this failure alone cannot create an issue of fact sufficient to have the matter move forward. The case was dismissed.
This case upholds the authority of California employers to select who they deem to be the most qualified applicant from the available pool for an open position. Employers are well advised to carefully weigh and evaluate the inevitably competing qualifications of the candidates and carefully document the reasons for the successful applicant’s selection. Further, California employers should ensure they are complying with record retention requirements (2 years for employment applications).