Thursday, July 02, 2009
Empathy and Who Gets The Job
"Mr. Ricci and his fellow petitioners understandably attract the court's empathy, but they had no vested right to promotion, and no person has received a promotion in preference to them."
- Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, dissenting from Monday's Supreme Court ruling that white firefighters were the victims of discrimination when the city of New Haven, Conn., discarded test results that revealed disparities in scores between black and white applicants for promotions. Her choice of the word "empathy" in her spoken statement seemed to reference conservative criticism of President Obama for saying he wants judges who can show empathy for those who are vulnerable. (Source: Los Angeles Times) (I picked this up from Sojourners Online. Emphasis is mine.)
The word "empathy" may be referencing President Obama's desires in a judge, but certainly during her lifetime, Justice Ginsburg has felt the kind of discrimination that results from discarded tests and preferences that had nothing to do with qualifications. I heartily support her use of the word. And, in most cases no one has a vested right to promotion. Most promotions are based on many things including written materials, length of duty, color of skin/eyes/hair, leadership qualities, obvious abilities/strengths, politics, political correctness, financial support and the like. While most places try to promote on the basis of concrete qualifications, that's almost impossible. Our internal biases and preferences as well as initial impressions do make a difference in who gets the job.