EEOC Lags Behind Business on the Appropriateness of Hiring for “Cultural Fit”

EEOCThe EEOC recently condoned a hiring manager’s selection of job candidates based upon “cultural fit,”  despite the fact this concept is increasingly disfavored in the American business community.

According to a March 21, 2017 article at, The End of Cultural Fit, the concept of ‘cultural fit’ was once the bedrock of corporate recruiting but today is widely considered taboo because it is fraught with bias.

“In some organizations ‘culture fit’ has become a weaponized phrase that interviewers use as a blanket term to reject candidates that don’t match the hiring manager’s view of the ideal candidate; and as such, it has become the embodiment of unconscious bias. ” writes author Lars Schmidt.

Overwhelming research shows that hiring managers harbor implicit or subconscious bias, including irrational prejudice or harmful stereotypes.

“Most interviewers are more likely to hire people like themselves and discount those who are different. This type of thinking hinders diversity and leads to homogenous cultures,” writes Schmidt.

Facebook has prohibited the use of the term “cultural fit”  because it invites bias

The EEOC’s decision to sanction hiring for cultural fit occurred in an age discrimination case filed against the Social Security Administration by a 60-year–old female applicant. The hiring officer, a middle-aged male, testified that his initial choice of five candidates  under the age of 40 was based solely upon his perception of who was the best cultural fit for the office.  He testified that he ignored objective qualifications entirely.

The four commissioners who currently serve on the EEOC are Democratic appointees Jenny Yang (Asian-American), Charlotte A. Burrows (African-American) and Chai R. Feldblum (the first openly lesbian commissioner) and Republican appointee Victoria A. Lipnic.

Would they have approved hiring decisions based on cultural fit if the case had involved a highly-qualified Asian, African-American or lesbian?  Of course not. The EEOC for years has ignored epidemic age discrimination in hiring, despite the fact (or maybe because) older women are the most adversely affected.

The EEOC cites an example of race discrimination  in the EEOC Compliance Manual on Race and Color Discrimination that involves a Native American who was not promoted because the hiring officer said a similarly qualified white candidate “seemed to be a better fit; I’m comfortable with him and I can see him in my job one day.”

According to an article at, one problem with hiring for “cultural fit” is that the term means something different to everyone. “If company’s ‘culture’ just so happens to be young, white, and male, what’s to keep them from ‘hiring for culture’ and screening out women and minorities?” writes author Jon-Mark Sabel.

The bottom line –  the business community is more intellectually advanced on the issue of  hiring discrimination than the EEOC, which is charged with implementing the nation’s civil rights laws.



EEOC Refuses to Comment About Allowing Hiring Officer to Ignore Objective Qualifications in Age Discrimination Case

Acting EEOC Commissioner Victoria A. Lipnic

The EEOC  has declined to comment on its decision to uphold an administrative ruling that dismissed an age discrimination case where a hiring officer said he ignored objective qualifications and hired workers based on cultural fit. 

The ruling by Carlton M. Hadden, director of the EEOC Office of Federal Operations, involved an allegation of age discrimination by a 60-year-old woman who was not selected for one of five vacancies for the position of attorney decision-writer at a new Social Security Administration office in Reno, NV in 2011.

The novice hiring officer testified that he completely ignored objective qualifications when he selected five applicants under the age of 40.   After three or four applicants declined the job, the hiring officer selected a 42-year-old male applicant. The hiring officer initially said he rejected the 60-year-old female applicant because she lacked enthusiasm during a 20-minute telephone interview. He agreed  she was more objectively qualified than most or all of the other applicants but said she did not fit within his perception of SSA “culture.” 

Hadden upheld an Administrative Law Judge’s finding that “reliance on subjective criteria is appropriate and necessary when the selection, as here, involves consideration of collegial, professional, teamwork, and administrative abilities that do not lend themselves to objective measurement.” Continue reading “EEOC Refuses to Comment About Allowing Hiring Officer to Ignore Objective Qualifications in Age Discrimination Case”