Use Of Nepotism Policy Not Guise For Racial Discrimination

The Sedgwick County, Kansas Department of Corrections hired Barnard Anderson, who is African-American, in July 2001. During Anderson’s interview for the position, he disclosed that his daughter was also employed by the Department in a different facility. The head of the program for which Anderson interviewed checked with his supervisors about hiring Anderson despite his daughter’s employment and received approval from both.

The Director of the Department learned of the hiring less than a day after Anderson’s start date. Concluding that Anderson’s hiring violated the Department’s anti-nepotism policy, the Director terminated Anderson while he was still on probationary status. Anderson sued, claiming the invocation of the anti-nepotism policy was a guise for race discrimination.

A federal appeals court dismissed Anderson’ s lawsuit. Since the County’s anti-nepotism policy prohibited it from hiring “immediate family members,” and defined as “immediate family members” the “husband, wife, son, son-in-law, and daughter…” of an individual, the Court found that the “plain language of the anti-nepotism policy prohibits Anderson’s employment within the same department as his daughter.”

Anderson was able to point to Caucasian sibling employees of the Department who the Department conceded violated the anti-nepotism policy. However, the Court found the Department “did not learn of a hiring mistake until after the employees had completed probationary status and were permanent employees – not probationary like Mr. Anderson.” The Court also pointed to two other occasions when the Department learned of anti-nepotism policy violations after the employees had gained permanent status. On both occasions, the employees were African-American, and the Department did not terminate these employees either.

The Court concluded that “while Anderson has shown that other employees did not suffer adverse consequences for violating the anti-nepotism policy, two of the three sets of unpunished violators were African-Americans, hardly suggesting racial prejudice.”

Anderson v. Sedgwick County, 2005 WL 2339435 (10th Cir. 2005).

NOTE: Though the Court did not address the issue, anti-nepotism policies have been repeatedly upheld as not violating the constitutional rights of employees.

This article appears in the November 2005 issue