THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PERFORMANCE APPRAISAL CRITERION SPECIFICITY AND STATISTICAL EVIDENCE OF DISCRIMINATION
H. W. Hennessey Jr. and H. John Bernardin
Plaintiffs’ expert witnesses in EEO cases involving performance appraisals often claim that adverse impact is a result of the type of rating format used. Their theory is that more specific rating criteria will lead to lessened adverse impact. We tested that theory by comparing data from a simple category-based rating system against data from a standards-based Work Planning and Review appraisal system with over 248,000 performance appraisals of state employees. Using logistic regression and statistical definitions of prima facie discrimination, we found no support for the hypothesis that adverse impact is materially affected by criterion specificity. © 2003 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Introduction Performance appraisal is often at the center of equal employment opportunity litigation involving promotions and terminations (Bernardin & Tyler, 2001). The recent heavily publicized Title VII cases against CocaCola, the Ford Motor Company, Boeing, Texaco, Circuit City, Publix Super Markets, Motel 6, Smith Barney, Home Depot, and Wendy’s, for example, all concerned (in part) the presentation of adverse-impact statistics related to promotions and a scrutiny of the manner in which performance appraisal was conducted in the organization as related to those promotions or terminations (Malos, 1996; Myerson, 1997; Villanova, Austin, & Bernardin, 2002).
The complaint in Abdallah et al. v. CocaCola (1999), for example, stated, “Coca-Cola Company utilizes employee evaluations …that treat African-American salaried employees less favorably than similarly situated employees outside the protected group.” Reports submitted for class certification in the case included the calculation of adverse-impact statistics and expert testimony regarding the process of evaluating employees. Thus, under a class-based lawsuit enlisting a “disparate impact” theory of discrimination, nonparametric statistics, a standard deviation analysis, and/or an 80% rule analysis are typically presented, followed by (or coincidental with) testimony by the plaintiffs’ expert who evaluates the process of performance appraisal used in the organization and con-
Correspondence to: H. W. Hennessey Jr., School of Business, University of Hawaii-Hilo, Hilo, HI 96720 (808) 974-7767; e-mail: email@example.com Human Resource Management, Summer 2003, Vol. 42, No. 2, Pp. 143–158 © 2003 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Published online in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com). DOI: 10.1002/hrm.10073
HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT, Summer 2003
...a common plaintiffs’ expert theme involving performance appraisal and personnel decisions was the ambiguity of the items or anchors of the rating instrument and, in particular, the lack of specificity in the criterion.
cludes that the system violates one or more “prescriptions” in the appraisal literature for how to conduct performance appraisal (e.g., Villanova et al., 2002; Bernardin & Tyler, 2001; Powell & Butterfield, 1997). Bernardin, Hennessey, and Peyrefitte (1995) found that a common plaintiffs’ expert theme involving performance appraisal and personnel decisions was the ambiguity of the items or anchors of the rating instrument and, in particular, the lack of specificity in the criterion. In one manifestation of this theme, an industrial psychologist recently testified that the performance appraisal format (i.e., a traitbased rating instrument) used by a company to make performance-based downsizing decisions was “a type of appraisal form susceptible to various forms of rating bias, including age discrimination” (Kane, Russell, & Bernardin, 1998). Another expert in a Title VII case alleging race discrimination opined that the “more ambiguous the rating criteria, the greater the likelihood of bias in the resultant decisions” (Kane et al., 1998). In a class...
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