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While a higher level of formal education or a higher earned degree may make you more qualified for a particular job or promotion, it may not be enough – standing on its own – to prove discrimination in the hiring or promotion process.

In Wince v. CBRE, Inc., No. 22-1593, 2023 WL 3191422 (7th Cir. May 2, 2023), Sylvester Wince, who is Black, worked for nearly two decades maintaining buildings and repairing equipment at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Wince is a licensed Stationary Engineer; has a bachelor’s degree in organizational science; and holds certificates in electricity, air quality, and refrigeration. Wince applied for an internal promotion to the position of Assistant Chief Engineer. The promotion was given to Andrew Brudniak, who was White and did not have a bachelor’s degree. Wince sued his employer, CBRE, for race discrimination for failing to promote him.

Earlier this week, our employment discrimination lawyers posted a blog about proving a failure to promote case under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (See How Do You Prove Failure To Promote Under Title VII?). As discussed more thoroughly in that blog, the failure to promote is an adverse employment action that can trigger a Title VII claim if the employee was qualified for the position; passed over because of the employee’s race/color, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, or religion; and that position went to someone outside of the employee’s protected class. However, failure to promote cases usually comes down to the question of whether the plaintiff-employee can present evidence that his/her/their credentials were “so superior” when compared to the credentials of the person ultimately given the job.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that Wince could not meet this burden:

Wince first asserts that CBRE failed to promote him to Assistant Chief Engineer in 2015 because he is Black. A failure to promote can be a materially adverse employment action. See Riley v. Elkhart Cmty. Schs., 829 F.3d 886, 892 (7th. Cir. 2016). Using the burden-shifting approach, Wince’s first task was to show that CBRE promoted a non-Black person who was not better qualified for the position. See id.

Wince proposes Brudniak, the White employee hired for the Assistant Chief Engineer position at Lavin Family Pavilion, as such a comparator. But there was no material difference in the qualifications of the two men. Brudniak, like Wince, was a licensed Stationary Engineer and held certificates in air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration. Wince alleges that he had a better educational background than Brudniak because he held a bachelor’s degree, but there is no evidence in the record showing that college education was either required or relevant for the position. Crucially, Brudniak was a lateral transfer, because he was already an Assistant Chief Engineer in another wing of the hospital. In other words, he had more relevant experience for the job.

Id. at *4.

The important takeaway is that just because one candidate has a higher educational degree does not necessarily mean that candidate is more qualified for the job – at least for the purposes of a Title VII claim. Thus, in a failure to promote discrimination case under Title VII, a higher educational degree alone does not necessarily determine who is most qualified for a particular position. Instead, qualifications are determined based on a range of factors that are relevant to the job, including education, skills, experience, and other relevant job-related factors.

For example, if a job requires a particular skill set or experience, an individual with a lower educational degree but significant relevant experience may be more qualified than someone with a higher degree but little relevant experience. Similarly, if a job requires strong interpersonal skills or leadership abilities, an individual with a degree in a related field but no demonstrated leadership experience may be less qualified than someone without a degree but with a strong track record of leadership.

Therefore, in a failure to promote discrimination case, it is essential to evaluate the full range of qualifications and factors relevant to the job in question, and not simply rely on a higher educational degree as the determining factor for who is most qualified.

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What is the best way to figure out if I have a race discrimination case?

If you believe you have been a victim of race discrimination, there are several steps you can take to determine if you have a viable case. Here are some key things to keep in mind:

  1. Identify the behavior: Make a list of the discriminatory behavior you experienced. This could include comments, actions, or decisions that were motivated by your race, such as being passed over for a promotion or being subjected to offensive jokes or slurs.
  2. Gather evidence: Collect any evidence that supports your claim, such as emails, memos, performance reviews, or witness statements. This evidence can help demonstrate that the discriminatory behavior occurred and was based on your race.
  3. Consult with an experienced employment law attorney: Schedule a consultation with an experienced employment discrimination attorney who can evaluate your case and provide guidance on your legal options. They can help you understand the strengths and weaknesses of your case and the likelihood of success.

Remember that each case is unique, and the best way to determine if you have a race discrimination case is to speak with an experienced attorney who can provide tailored guidance based on the specific facts of your situation. To that end, you should call the right attorney at Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm right now to schedule a free and confidential consultation. Our skilled employment discrimination lawyers in Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, and Kentucky are ready to help you now.

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This employment law website is an advertisement. The race discrimination, wrongful termination and failure to promote materials presented in this article and throughout this employment discrimination and wrongfully fired website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. To obtain direct legal advice regarding your particular situation and potential claims, you should contact our top attorneys. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of The Spitz Law Firm, Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.


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