I’m still getting calls from clients after being let go, my coworker is interfering in my work, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. I’m still getting calls from clients after being let go

A few months ago, I was let go from my job. It was an amicable parting after the job description changed and I no longer fit the role they needed, and both of my former bosses agreed to be references for me.

However, I find that I’m still getting phone calls from former clients whom I called before I was let go. Due to the nature of the business, it’s not unusual for a client to say “we will contact you in the spring.” Naturally, I am answering every phone call that comes in the hopes that it is for a job, but many times it is a former client who doesn’t know that I have been let go.

I want to know if I am handling things reasonably. Most times I will apologize, explain that I am no longer with the company, and tell them that I will tell someone within the company that they called. To me, this is easier because in order to get the client to the right person, I would have to spell out an email and I know that spelling it out can be difficult over the phone. It’s quicker to message my former supervisor and tell them “so and so from such and such a place called” rather than spend agonizing minutes on the phone dictating an email address and all the while being painfully reminded that I was let go. Am I doing too much? Should I be screening my calls despite looking for a job?

Ugh, one of the many reasons not to use your personal phone number for work, although it’s too late for that to do you any good now.

I think you’re right that you want to be answering your phone right now since you have resumes out there. In theory, employers should leave messages and be reachable when you call them back, but plenty of people have stories about that not always working out.

Otherwise I’d say just let the calls go to voicemail, and maybe even add something to your voicemail greeting directing people looking for your old company to call them directly. But since that’s not an ideal option here, then yeah, I’d keep doing what you’re doing. However, you could ask your old manager if there’s something she can do — such as having a current employee proactively get in touch with the clients who were assigned to you to give them updated contact info. (That’s better for her too since it’s not great to have client calls going to someone who no longer works there, so she should be willing to do it.)

2. I’m doing some of my coworker’s work as a favor to her and she’s interfering

I work in an office with 13 others and we’re a close office. We spend time together outside of work regularly and all get on well.

I have recently taken on an extra responsibility outside of my own job description, and in reality this is part of Fiona’s job. Fiona has severe anxiety and depression and decided that this responsibility was too much for her. An intern did it for a while (and was awful) so I am taking it on.

I have to liaise with one of Fiona’s team members (Greg) to do my work, and everything is finally sorted from the intern doing god-knows-what to it. Greg and I have settled plans for the next few weeks. But Fiona keeps trying to question my work, and is trying to rearrange timings for activities when everything is already sorted. She pulls up a chair next to me to question what I’ve done while reading my emails from Greg. She then checks it all through with Greg that it is okay by shouting across the office. (I have taken to carrying on with my work when she does this.)

It takes up a lot of my working day and as this is an extra responsibility, I do need the time to work on other areas. I’m unsure how to address this situation as she is aware that she couldn’t work on this right now, but I can’t go through all of Greg’s plans twice as well as do my own work. I don’t want to hurt her by saying the wrong thing and am worried that whatever I say she will take the wrong way. She has been fired from jobs before this one and is always worrying about losing her job. I really want to be nice but I’m starting to lose my patience!

“Nice” is a fine thing to be, but you can’t let it keep you from addressing work issues that are impeding your effectiveness. And you can’t let a fear of not being nice prevent you from having perfectly reasonable conversations.

The next time she questions your work or pulls up a chair, say this: “I need to work on other things right now, but I’ve got this under control.” And then turn back to your computer and work on other things, like you need to. If necessary, you can also say, “I know you’re interested in this work, but realistically I don’t have the time to to do this on top of my other work and also walk you through my planning. If you want to take it back over, let’s talk about that, but otherwise I need you to let me manage it.”

That’s not rude; it’s direct, and it’s reasonable. If she takes offense to that, that’s about her, not you.

3. How to support an employee facing unfounded accusations of racism

One the supervisors I oversee, Beth, has been accused of being racist during the hiring process. One of the (external) candidates she interviewed for a spot on her team has retained a lawyer and is claiming Beth did not hire him because of his race (he is black, Beth is white). Beth says she decided not to hire him because he was not well spoken and used slang and words in the interview that she didn’t understand (such as fleek, bae, and woke).

Our company works on government contracts and they are taking the allegations seriously. Beth has been suspended while they investigate. I want to show my support to Beth during this. I have already spoken to my boss about it. I’m black, and Beth has never exhibited any signs of racism to or around me. Beth has a black grandparent and before she worked for us she spent three years working for an NGO in Africa. (I’m aware that having a black relative doesn’t mean someone can’t be racist, but I’m giving that as an example as part of the wider picture.)

My boss asked people who worked with Beth to anonymously report any incidents where they felt she had been racist to HR but no one has reported anything and several people (of all races) have emailed or expressed their support for Beth to me. I’m confident the allegation will be dismissed as unfounded, but until then I want Beth to know I’m on her side and will go to bat for her. How can I do this while not overstepping and still being professional?

If you’re confident in your read of the situation (and have factored in how often “not well-spoken” gets used in biased ways and you’re confident it’s not the case here), then be direct and say something similar to what you said in your letter. For example: “I want you to know that I’m on your side and I will go to bat for you. I’ve never had any reason to question your integrity on these issues, and I’m confident that this will be dismissed as unfounded. I’m sorry that you’re having to deal with this simply from doing your job.”

Update: The letter-writer has updated in the comments that the candidate greeted Beth with “hey dog,” and that the job was for a communications position. The candidate Beth hired was a person of color. (The letter-writer is commenting as “Henry,” if you’d like to read his comments below.)

4. My internship hasn’t turned out to be what I was promised

I am a psychology major at a four-year university in my senior year, looking to get into the field of Human Resources. Psychology majors are required to complete 120 hours of practical experience in an internship to graduate. I was both lucky and excited to quickly secure an internship at a nonprofit organization that listed the position as “Human Resources and Client Services Intern.” The organization’s mission is to assist clients in obtaining and retaining gainful employment.

During the interview process, the manager noticed I had collections and telemarketing experience and thought it would be an excellent idea to have me assist with “company outreach” (getting businesses to sponsor the organization in various ways — telemarketing). I explained I would be glad to help in that area, but did stress the fact that I was looking to gain practical skills in human resources.

I have completed nearly 30 hours, and most of it has been in a retail type role (dressing clients for interviews/sorting clothing) and telemarketing, and I do not feel I am gaining practical experience in HR. I was hoping the internship would provide me with the skills needed to not only obtain an entry-level position in HR but to use as experience for my future application to a master’s program.

Can you please advise me on the best way to handle this situation? I understand due to lack of funds, many employees at a nonprofit wear many hats and perform a variety of tasks. I am afraid to speak up because I need to do well at this position so I can ask for letters of recommendation, I don’t want to appear as if I am unwilling to do what it takes.

Nope, this isn’t cool, especially if it’s an unpaid internship. This isn’t you “not being willing to do what it takes”; this is you addressing the fact that you took the job because you were promised something that so far has not materialized. Speaking up about this is no different than speaking up if your paycheck was less than promised.

Say this: “I took this internship because my understanding was that I’d be focusing on X, Y, and Z. I’m now a quarter of the way in, and I’ve been mainly doing retail work and telemarketing. It’s important to me that I get the experience we originally talked about. Would it be possible to focus on X, Y, and Z for the remainder of my time here, as we talked about when I interviewed?”

If the answer is anything other than “whoops, yes, we lost track of how much time we’d had you spending on other things and we will remedy that immediately,” then I’d seriously consider whether it’s possible at this stage to move to a different internship. I’d also talk with your program at school about what’s happening and see if they can offer any help. (For example, they might be able help you secure different employment, or offer other guidance.)

But you don’t need to keep doing a job that you never signed up for and that you made clear you weren’t interested in (especially if you’re doing it for free).

5. Do my contacts think I’ve already committed to taking a job with them?

I recently decided to move jobs, and sent out a few messages to people in my network with whom I have close professional relationships. Fortunately, I got three enthusiastic responses, and I’m making plans to interview at all three. Most of them aren’t even official posted jobs yet, but the hiring managers are in the beginning stages of arranging for the positions.

Since I reached out to them initially, I’m concerned they think I am committed to working for them specifically. They have made a few offhand comments that make me think this is a valid concern — comments said in passing like “you’ll see [about a new project] when you get here,” which makes them hard to respond to. The truth is I want to learn more about each position before I make any commitment. How can I navigate this job hunting scenario gracefully, without leading on or disappointing any of my valued professional contacts?

I think you’re probably reading more into it than they intend. Hiring managers generally realize that casual conversations are exploratory, not commitments to take a job if offered, especially when you haven’t even interviewed yet. And those sorts of offhand comments aren’t unusual, and they don’t mean “this is a done deal.” (More on that here.)

But if you’re really concerned about it, you could always say something like, “I know you’re in the early stages of the hiring process, but so far I’m really interested in what we’ve discussed. I’m talking with a few different people and considering a few options, but what you’re doing here really intrigues me, and I’m looking forward to talking more.”

{ 807 comments… read them below }

  1. Jeanne

    #1, You mean well but you are working too hard at this. It is not your responsibility to get them in touch with the right person. I would just say “I’m sorry but I no longer work there and cannot help you. I’m sure if you contact them they will help you. Goodbye.” Then hang up.

    #3, It’s good you are supporting your boss. I have to wonder why your company refuses to support your boss. She did not need to be suspended for them to look into it and government contracts are no excuse. You can say that she has never been racist toward you or in your presence. But I would keep my eyes open for other signs of the way the company operates. To me this is a red flag.

    1. Stellaaaaa

      Regarding OP3: Fleek, bae, and woke are very common slang terms within the POC community, and it definitely reads a certain way when an older white woman says that a black man is inarticulate for having used these words. My personal opinion is that those words are too slang-y to be appropriate for job interviews in any case, so there’s that. There’s the added layer that these words are especially common on the internet. Using “woke” in mixed real-world company is kind of like assuming that 80% of your friends like Doctor Who just because 80% of your online friends do. So my conclusion is that Beth is well-meaning but a bit out of touch, while the rejected applicant possibly spends too much time online and is out of touch for other reasons. This is a case where a white woman pointed out a real life instance of a dangerous stereotype. Saying that a black man isn’t well-spoken is a bad look, especially with the examples given, and even though I’d say that Beth’s in the right at the end of the day, everyone involved needs to acknowledge how completely terrible the optics are.

      1. LisaLee

        I honestly think there’s a little bit of age bias going on here. Having a black grandparent doesn’t mean you know anything about young, black online culture where words like woke and fleck emerged from. There’s such a long history of black people being told they speak “wrong” because they use a dialect that Beth’s criticisms of the applicant’s way of speaking really made me raise my eyebrows. If I were Beth’s company, I’d want to have her go through some sensitivity training, but I agree with you that this probably isn’t a fireable thing.

        1. paul

          I’m an early 30s white guy and know what woke is (not so sure about fleek, think I know bae) but I 100% promise the 60ish Jamacian-Ethiopan woman I work with doesn’t have a clue.

          1. Stellaaaaa

            I’m not gonna split hairs too far here, but there’s a bit of discourse about how the issues affecting black people who were born and raised in the US are not necessarily the same as those affecting black immigrants. It’s a bit of a straw man to point to your older female coworker as an illustrative example of something that is harmful specifically to young black people who were born and raised in the US. A Jamaican-Ethiopian woman naturally would not be immersed in AAVE slang.

          1. Lucy Westenra

            The problem with sensitivity training is that, in my experience, it’s more of a non-solution. A couple powerpoints, a group discussion, x number of hours spent in the classroom, and then the employer can put “sensitivity training” on the official record so that it looks like they did something. Unless things are different where you come from.

            Also, we weren’t there. We don’t have the whole story, just the few hundred words the OP shared with us. Maybe Beth is biased or even racist and needs some kind of education; maybe she doesn’t and we’re blowing a few details out of proportion, or we misunderstood the OP’s explanation.

            1. LisaLee

              I was thinking more along the lines of “be aware of the coding of certain words/phrases” sensitivity training. I agree it’s often useless for deeper issues.

        2. RVA Cat

          This. I am thinking this is bias against Millennials combining with unconscious racism in much the same way that same age bias interacts with sexism on the tone policing of young women’s “uptalk” and “vocal fry.”

          1. Mephyle

            It is and it isn’t the same. It’s unlikely that uptalk and vocal fry will impede understanding, but (as Leatherwings points out below) the candidate was using words that a person outside his culture did not understand.

          1. Koko

            Hah, I had a similar reaction at least to bae. If they were talking about outside-of-work activities, I wouldn’t be concerned about the use of slang terms…and I can’t really imagine why you would ever talk about bae in a work context. But if you ask someone about their personal life and they call their sweetie their boo or their honey their bae, I tend to think that it’s unfair to penalize them for that.

            I work in comms/fundraising for a nonprofit and I could completely see a (yes, probably younger) nonprofit PR/comms person using the word “woke” in a work context though, if they’re talking about a level of understanding the issue or a goal of raising awareness for the cause.

            And somehow trying to imagine someone saying “fleek” in an interview conjures this image up for me of an overly salesy guy with a lot of bravado insisting that, “You’ll never have to worry about the impression I make with clients, because my steez is always on fleek!” *thousand-watt smile* Ha!

      2. BuildMeUp

        It sounds like she both said that he wasn’t well spoken, AND that he used slang terms. The OP gave examples of the slang, but not of what caused Beth to say he wasn’t well spoken.

        I do agree that there’s a lot of baggage attached to calling a black person inarticulate/articulate, though. Reading a person of color as “less professional” is definitely something that can be caused by unconscious bias, and I would be concerned if it’s the only reason she has for hiring someone else over him.

        1. Leatherwings

          My issue is that it’s not just that he used slang, it’s the language “he used slang she didn’t understand” + the inarticulate thing that just raises alarm bells. Would different slang not associated with the black community have been fine with her? Obviously I don’t know the answer to that but it seems worth exploring.

          That doesn’t mean the suit is grounded, but it does probably indicate that Beth has more unconscious bias than she or OP might realize.

        2. Fiennes

          Honestly, the whole letter pings weird to me. In what context would these words come up in an interview? “Woke,” possibly, in certain contexts. But “bae” is a reach, and “fleek”? Outside of certain kind of pop-culture jobs, I can’t imagine all this arising organically in a conversation about employment. Something is off here & idk what.

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

            Yeah, that jumped out to me immediately. Are those really words that the candidate used in the interview?

      3. Mags

        Yup, x 1000. If there were other reasons the candidate weren’t considered I wouldn’t feel so off about this story. But for Beth to say she solely didn’t hire him because he wasn’t “well-spoken” and used AAVE which she didn’t understand is troubling. This is smacking of respectability politics and I would definitely be questioning her level of (probably unconscious) bias if I were her boss.

        1. Stellaaaaa

          This is honestly so textbook “racist” on the surface that I’m not surprised that the company is taking the legal threat seriously. I can understand Beth saying something like, “The candidate used slang I wasn’t familiar with and he seemed a bit too casual overall,” but saying he was poorly spoken? Even though I mostly excuse her upthread, in a perfect world I’d still expect her to know better so I’m not mad at the company for making her sweat a little while they wait this out.

          1. Mookie

            I’d like to hear from the OP whether the words she used as an example were words Beth specifically identified. But, yeah, this feels off and the OP should let the process continue without interfering or “going to bat” prematurely. I’m also incredibly surprised the OP didn’t report what exactly the plaintiff in this case says happened during the interview or elsewhere in the hiring process that indicates racial bias, because all we’ve got to go on is what Beth says are her reasons for not hiring him (presumably reasons voiced only after the lawsuit was filed and she was asked for a fuller account of that interview). This smells funny.

            1. Henry

              The candidate used all those words in the interview more than once and he greeted and said goodbye to Beth by addressing her as ‘dog’ (as in hey dog). Given that our industry involved communications, none of this would be appropriate ways to speak in our day to day work.

              The candidate says Beth chose not to hire him because of his race (a more qualified non white person was hired for the job)

              1. eplawyer

                Because calling a woman a “dog” is okay. We never, ever, get called that. Talk about not noticing a problem.

                1. Supa Secret Sista

                  I really think Ask A Manager needs to update the post with Henry’s edit. It makes a profound impact on the results, even if the summary she gave was questionable.

                2. AnonAnalyst

                  Agree with Supra Secret Sista. I had a totally different impression of this situation before seeing the context above, and this comments section is long enough that I suspect a lot of readers will miss the follow up.

                3. LBK

                  Oh come on, it’s obviously a completely different context and meaning here. It’s no different than buddy, pal, etc. It’s not a commentary on her looks.

                4. fposte

                  @LBK–I get he didn’t mean it that way. But rather like “well spoken,” “dog” has a legitimate meaning but a problematic connotation that makes it inadvisable to use in some circumstances.

                5. LBK

                  I agree it wasn’t appropriate for the situation, but referring to someone as a pal or buddy is clearly on a different level of inappropriateness than calling someone ugly, which is what eplawyer’s comment seemed to imply.

                  I also don’t think it’s fair to equate “dog” to “well spoken.” The problem with “well spoken” is its implications, not its potential to be misunderstood depending on the context of its usage.

                6. Elizabeth H.

                  Even if we replace “Hey dogg” with “Hey man” or “Hey dude” (these are all ways that people have greeted me – I’m a woman – in a VERY casual context) to avoid anything that sounds like you are calling a woman a dog (it doesn’t mean the same thing when you use it as a synonym for ‘dude’) it still doesn’t seem right for an interview.
                  That said, the whole thing is ehhh for all reasons others have pointed out and it’s really surprising not to realize the optics and to have taken serious care to avoid theappearance of bias, if the job candidate wasn’t the best person for the job for these specific reasons.

                7. AnonAnalyst

                  @LBK: I can only speak for myself, but as a woman I find “dog” problematic because it tends to be used as a derogatory term when directed at women. “Buddy” and “pal” don’t have the same connotations. I don’t think eplawyer was implying that the candidate was using the term to insult Beth, but rather that it was concerning that he didn’t recognize that the term was potentially problematic for that particular audience given its typical usage.

                  “Buddy,” “pal,” or “dude,” also wouldn’t have been appropriate in an interview but I would look on any of those way more favorably than “dog.”

                8. eplawyer

                  Actually LBK, I was thinking of a female dog. Which women get referred to on a regular basis if we aren’t “silent and soft spoken.” So yes, using the word “dog” to a female interviewer is as inappropriate as saying someone was “not well spoken.”

                9. Koko

                  You guys it’s spelled “dawg” or “dogg.” It has a completely different meaning than dog (regardless of gender, since dog usually means “shameless” when applied to men men). It was pretty obvious from context that he wasn’t saying, “What up uggo!” and his crime was being overly informal, not saying something offensive or sexist.

              2. Katie the Fed

                Henry – thanks for providing the additional details. It changes my perspective on this.

                I know this is going to be very stressful for Beth, but hopefully she’ll be ok. I believe that most discrimination cases usually fail, because they’re so hard to prove (although I do hope she framed her reasoning a little different than how you did in your letter).

              3. Lablizard

                You are in a tough spot and Allison’s scripts are a good call. Personally, I would say it rather than write it since who knows how it could be used if it went to court. The last thing you want is your words of support being twisted and used against Beth.

              4. Formica Dinette

                In that case, it’s too bad your employee isn’t more up on modern slang, because then she could’ve responded, “Bye Felicia.”

          2. Annonymouse

            But considering the slang words used I can’t reasonably think of a way for them to be used in a job interview situation.

            And it depends on the frequency and sentence structure I suppose.

            I mean if someone used “like”, “you know” and “totally/totes” every 3-5 words you would also have to say they aren’t well spoken in a job interview context.

            1. Hmm

              ^This.
              My company recently decided to hire Person A rather than Person B, because Person B said “basically” too many times during the interview. What is too many times? 83 times in a 10 minute interview. I counted. It was at least 2-3 times per sentence, and the rest of the sentences weren’t conveying much information. I’m sure Person B was a perfectly nice person, but in an interview you do actually have to *interview* well. You don’t get points just for showing up in a suit.

        2. Katie the Fed

          It’s so full of code words I’m genuinely surprised that Beth didn’t realize how bad it sounded.

          1. Jen

            I think not realizing it is a huge part of the problem, if she and her colleagues don’t know that this is racism then there is probably lots of it around and an investigation is a great idea

            1. Ana

              The letter writer is black and probably can be trusted to have some awareness of racism if there’s a lot of it around in their office.

              1. Mookie

                Sure, but the plaintiff is black, too, and one person’s second-hand experiences (presumably the OP wasn’t sitting in on the interview) don’t negate another’s. Not-experiencing-racism is not the same as disproving its existence.

                1. AW

                  Indeed. When I was in middle school there was a boy in my class who also lived on my street who was *extremely* racist. He was forever using slurs, harassing the other black kids in class and the neighborhood, and constantly getting into trouble for it.

                  He never did it around me or my sisters.

                  And it wasn’t a case of “he said, she said”, everyone else saw and heard him doing it because he never bothered hiding it from anyone else. One of my clearest memories of him is him running away from a white teacher who was screaming at him because he’d said something racist in front of her.

          2. K.

            As a Black woman who has heard “you’re so well-spoken!” since she was able to talk, I cringed at that letter and was on the candidate’s side until I read the OP’s update upthread. It’s totally coded language, and it’s coded language that many, many, many Black people have heard many, many, many times over. It’s instantly recognizable.

            1. MsCHX

              Same. Same. Same.

              I was virtually side-eyeing Beth the entire letter. I’ve gotten the “well-spoken” and the what they think is complimentary, “You’re so different!”.

              Side-eye. All the side-eyes.

              1. Anna

                Every time someone commented out President Obama being so eloquent and well-spoken, I would cringe, even though it was so true in the actual definition of the word!

                1. JB (not in Houston)

                  Yep. I’m someone who is not well spoken at all. I ramble and can be hard to follow if asked to speak off the cuff in a meeting, and sometimes I have a hard time pronouncing words (had a speech impediment as a kid). So when someone sounds clear and articulate and just generally speaks really well, I notice it and envy that ability. But I would never, ever say that aloud about Obama because it’s just so horribly coded. The fact that (best case scenario) Beth did not know how bad it sounded for her to say that and why is an issue that should be addressed, regardless of whether she was right not to hire the person.

            2. DMD

              I agree, and the update clarifies things a LOT. I think in general one should have common sense to avoid using a lot of slang when interviewing for a position -especially one related to communications. So, even before the update, I was on the fence (as I think if he really was using a lot of slang in an interview, that’s a legitimate thing to consider, depending on the position). And one should never call the interviewer he just met “dawg.” Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Seems like that’s the case here.

          3. Chinook

            Genuinely curious – how could Beth have better described this applicant if he can’t express his ideas coherently and uses words that would not be appropriate in a work context? Starting/ending a professional conversation by calling an interviewer dog/pal/honey/buddy or something equally informal would be one example. Using a lot of double speak or simply avoiding answering a question could be another.

            1. Chameleon

              Instead of “not well-spoken” she could easily have used “did not communicate in a professional way.” Instead of complaining that he was using slang she didn’t understand, she could simply have said he used overly and inappropriately informal language. Neither of these would have nearly the same overtones of racism, and would have much more clearly and accurately described the situation.

          4. Annonymouse

            Would Beth had said the same thing if the candidate was white is the question that is most pertinent to me.

            I’m going to go with yes given the update from above.

        3. Jwal

          It’s interesting because over here the words she picked aren’t particularly associated with black people, just young people*. And I’ve never heard someone use them in everyday speak, just online – chillin’ with bae, eyebrows on fleek etc.

          If someone used one of those words I would class it as slang just as much as I would any of the words we used to say as a teenager. I don’t think slang itself is problematic, but it doesn’t always come across as professional. If it was for a position where the person needed to articulate themselves well but was peppering their speech with “lol” or “like”, then that’d definitely be something I’d take note of. I don’t know how this candidate was speaking of course, but I can see it coming across in this way.

          * I mean, I’m assuming from what everyone’s saying that the words have been appropriated, but that’s how I see it being. I’m aware that this might be a UK thing (or even my area of the UK!) though.

          1. Katie the Fed

            Slang gets appropriated from black communities by young white people who want to seem edgy and/or ironic. Then after a while it makes its way into more mainstream white vernacular. Like, I knew “bling” was over when my 60-year old dad told me he bought my mom some bling for their anniversary. *cringe*

            1. Connie

              As a white person who follows a lot of POCs on Twitter and other other social media fora, I often have no idea whether something is AAVE slang vs internet slang vs standard you people slang. I know what it means, but I don’t know it’s origins. Those lines blur a lot faster than they once did.

          2. AnotherAnon

            Yeah, we’re missing a lot of the same racial context in the UK, so these words just come across as “young people talk”. I don’t think a whole lot of people here are aware they’ve been appropriated from AAVE – actually, I don’t think most people here know what it is, or have ever heard it in real life and I have no idea how its usage would be perceived here.

            Anyway, I’m no expert on AAVE, but since it’s a dialect it’s likely to have aspects other than vocabulary that differ from Standard US English, like syntax, so I’d suspect that it’s the use of AAVE (including but not limited to slang) that comes across as “not well spoken” because it’s a dialect (one strongly linked to race), so there could easily be some subconscious bias there. This is all assuming #3 is in the US, but by #3’s own words, it’s not just the slang, it’s a perception of being “well spoken”, which often refers to speaking a standard form of a language – or a dialect that’s perceived well, which AAVE isn’t.

            1. Jwal

              I hadn’t heard of AAVE until this site, so I think you’re right. And definitely the UK/US context makes a difference.

              I think these sorts of things are really helpful to explain as people don’t always have the same experience of black culture/black communities (again UK, and I’m also white). I see a lot that where something is obvious to someone they don’t take the time to explain the reasons why, and then you end up with a situation where something is seemingly obviously innocuous to one person but obviously racist to another and both think the other person is ridiculous for their stance. So it’s definitely interesting seeing these responses :)

              1. JB (not in Houston)

                You’re not wrong for your situation, but it’s quite problematic here in the US for a white person to not be aware of coded language like “well spoken.” It’s a sign that, at the least, that person is completely unaware of how racism was and still is pervasive and baked into every part of life. That makes it really hard for that person to recognize and address implicit bias and to understand the extent to which racism still affects this country.

          3. Mookie

            In addition to being AAVE, “woke” is of such recent vintage that there’s no way one can separate it from a black American context involving civil rights. This is also why it is so regularly mocked by reactionaries.

          4. Koko

            I now have a hilarious mental image of a candidate saying “lol” out loud (as a word, not an acronym) at an interview in response to the interviewer making a joke.

      4. Katie the Fed

        “Saying that a black man isn’t well-spoken is a bad look, especially with the examples given, and even though I’d say that Beth’s in the right at the end of the day, everyone involved needs to acknowledge how completely terrible the optics are.”

        YES. Thank you. I literally gasped when I read that part of the letter like “oooooh nooooo noooo.” I have a lawyer friend who represented someone who was told the company was looking for someone with “a less urban vibe” and it reminded me of that.

        1. Mazzy

          Wait, hold on that is totally not fair to Beth. What your friend “it is totally not the same as what Beth said. I’m really surprised that the vibe seems to be against Beth. As someone who does hiring I’ll always have a good and well spoken pool of candidates from all backgrounds and speaking Internet slang during the interview display such a lack of judgment and professionalism it could be a reason to get you disqualified because right behind you is going to be somebody who speaks very eloquently regardless of race or of every race. I also caution us to infantilize the person suing Beth’s employer. The question with racism is would this impact somebody of another race differently and in this case I definitely think it would not.

          You also need to remember that this website is usually at the very forefront of Internet slang and language. I know tons of young people that have no clue about a lot of the slang and even topics that come up on the site so I also would caution hugely against bringing up ageism or anything like that. Just because something is no one in some small corner of the Internet does not mean that it is widely known in pop culture and can be used in interviews

          1. N.J.

            The problem is though, these words are not internet slang or youth slang. The examples used by the OP are all words that originated within African American Vernacular English. They have been appropriated, like many linguistic, aesthetic, artistic and cultural aspects of the black community (at least in the monolithic sense) by young people, pop culture etc. The evolution of language is such that these words are then co-opted into the mainstream lexicon. A black candidate using AAVE is viewed in a totally different light, in many cases, than someone who is not a PoC. The job candidate is guilty of not being able to code-switch properly. The problem begins when we establish one language register or code as the preferred or “proper” language standard and denigrate the rest. The standardization of language isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, as it leads to shared communication and increased mutual intelligibility. The issue is thst the standardized and “proper” form of a language is often set by the societal group or segment with the most power. This is why you see colonial history rife with the suppression of the languages native to the conquered nation or group and the promotion of the language and cultural patterns of the conquering group. This same pattern is present in US English. Standard English is a product of Anglo Saxon, white dominated cultural patterns and experiences. AAVE is a result of a complex history of an enslaved race from their own various linguistic background being forced to learn the language of their oppressors, synthesize this with their own native linguistics and create a way to communicate, all while many were denied the usual means of language assimilation, such as being taught to read and write. For this reason, African American Vernacular English has a complicated history of both oppressing and uplifting the people who speak it. It is viewed as a sub-standard version of English because it originated from an oppressed race. It has become a sign of identity and solidarity among its users as well.

            So this isn’t just a simple case of the applicant either speaking in a manner that lends itself to professionalism or not. Yeah, if this was a young candidate speaking in slang terms we would all roll our eyes and say “kids these days” and judge the little whipper snapper for having the poor taste to speak less than formally. This is not a youngster. This was a black candidate using words that identified him or her as a user of a specific language subset that is itself used to label a person as uneducated, not well spoken etc. It’s not as simple as saying, well, he or she used slang so this person is unprofessional. It’s the fact that many folks will ascribe a subconscious set of stereotypical, racist characteristics to a PoC who uses AAVE, mostly negative. Since your comment doesn’t acknowledge that this is a race question and instead complete equates this situation with youth and internet slang, I thought it was important provide this context.

            The company would be remiss in not investigstinv this seriously, and I’m surprised at your own surprise that commenters are seeing the problematic associations here as well. It’s not that Beth is making a consciously racist decision, but there is s strong enough probability that her perceptions of “well spoken” are tied to all sorts of subconscious perceptions based on class, race and her membership in the dominant cultural group that controls what language is constructed as acceptable, that is is dangerous to just write it off as the applicant speaking poorly, even if thst ultimately ends up being the case.

            1. Anon since i know im going to be piled on

              Oh Lord. This is people jumping on a band wagon against Beth. Ive never heard of AAVE (Im 40 and in the South) and I am positive that everyone, in my office, including the bosses wouldn’t have either. And my older black, female boss would immediately knock someone out of the running for using Bae, etc. You have to sound professional in the workplace.

              And in a job interview, its first impressions. You need to be at your best. Once you get the job, you can sprinkle in your, Baes, etc. But get the job first.

              1. Agnodike

                A person can not be hired, or be disciplined or fired, etc. for racist reasons even if the person who fires them, etc. isn’t racist. It’s possible to have internalized “the correct way to act is [this way that’s congruent with mainstream white culture]” and not have internalized “people who aren’t white are bad.” Those are different messages, and they’re both racist. Being a member of a culture doesn’t inoculate you against perpetuating racist cultural behaviours; in my culture, it’s common for people who have the money to do so to alter their appearance, even surgically, to look more like the Northern European beauty standard. Those people aren’t racists. But that behaviour comes from living in a racist culture.

                “Sounding professional” is a constructed cultural norm, and it’s much more congruent with white culture than with other cultures. I had a tough time adapting in the workplace initially because the communication style that’s the norm in my culture can feel abrasive or confrontational outside that culture. I wasn’t being “unprofessional;” I just had to learn that my cultural norm for polite interaction and the mainstream cultural norm for polite interaction weren’t the same. If you grow up in the mainstream culture, you grow up knowing how to behave like people in the mainstream culture. If you don’t, you have to learn later, and sometimes that’s not easy to do.

                1. Agnodike

                  Thank you, N.J. That’s kind of you to say. I’m really enjoying reading your perspectives in this discussion.

                2. JS

                  Another excellent comment. I feel like this issue runs deeper than “Beth isnt a bad person”. I am sure Beth is a lovely person but that doesn’t mean she didn’t subconsciously show racial bias based on internalized stereotypes and her culture and background being considered the “norm”.

                3. Izzy

                  “the communication style that’s the norm in my culture can feel abrasive or confrontational outside that culture.”
                  Thank you for this. It helps this older white woman understand a subset of my coworkers (younger, African American) who seem abrasive and confrontational to me. I feel like they’re mad at me all the time and I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. (I guess because in my experience in my culture that’s what it means.) So it’s not me, it’s not them, just different cultures. What a relief!

              2. Philly Redhead

                You may not have heard the specific term of AAVE, but you no doubt know examples of it. And to your second paragraph, “sounding professional” is a coded way of saying “sound white.”

                1. Anon since i know im going to be piled on

                  “eye roll” NO. Sounding professional has nothing to do with being white. You have no clue if I am or not.
                  I knew the pile on would come.
                  Look there is no being white or black in the workplace. There is acting as a professional. We all no what it is. We all know how to do it, but when race comes up at all right now, tendency is to jump on a bandwagon.
                  Go…talk to your supv. right now. Ask them if this would fly by. No. It wouldn’t.
                  Everyone wants to be soooooo PC now. but you know calling your interviewer “dawg” and saying Bae, which shouldn’t even come up, and all isn’t right. You might hate me for what Im saying but its the truth. None of you will say Im insightful for this, but its the truth. No one wants to back this up. Its lets back up the PC people. And im the most liberal person you’ll ever meet but some things aren’t done at an interview.
                  Like I said, get the job, then pepper your words in. But get the job first.

                2. Anna

                  You’re just wrong on this Anon. Perhaps this guy was a bit too familiar with Beth. That is probably true, but to ignore the subtext of it is to deny these real issues exist.

                3. Anna

                  Just as another point, I know when you hear someone on the phone who sounds one way and then shows up and they are black or Hispanic or anything not white, you are surprised. Not because you’re a racist (I assume) but because we have all been conditioned to think black people sound one way and white people sound another way. This is what Philly Redhead and MsCHX mean.

                4. N.J.

                  There is no reply for @Anon…piled on to the reply she made to you, so I have to embed here. I could t st this moment come up with an articulate response to the PC debate, so I found s random blogger commenting on this issue and am adding it below. Not my words, but I agree with them.

                  Random Blogger:

                  What You’re Saying When You Use the Phrase “Politically Correct”

                  October 14, 2015Greta Christina
                  “Warning — I’m going to say some things here that aren’t politically correct.”

                  Or, “Oh, I’d better be careful, I might upset the PC police.”

                  Or, in response to a complaint about bigotry and discrimination and dehumanization, “They’re just being politically correct, I’m so sick of all that PC nonsense.”

                  I hear this a lot. I hear it from writers, speakers, politicians, commentators, comedians. And I don’t just hear it from overtly douchey asshats. I also hear it from people who are generally smart, thoughtful, decent, and clearly wanting to do good.

                  hexagonal-warning-sign
                  I hear this a lot. And whenever I hear it, it’s like a red flag. It’s like a red flag attached to sirens and klaxons and flashing red lights. It’s like a guy on the side of the road jumping around with a giant sign — a sign that says, “This person is about to say something incredibly screwed-up.”
                  When you use the phrase “politically correct,” here’s what you’re saying.

                  You’re saying, “I want to be able to say things that are damaging — and I don’t want to be held accountable for it.”

                  You’re saying, “I don’t want to have to think very carefully about the things that I’m saying. I want to say whatever pops into my head — and I don’t want to think about whether it’s unfair, inaccurate, bigoted, or otherwise harmful.”

                  You’re saying, “I want to say whatever pops into my head — and I don’t want to think about whether it perpetuates harmful tropes or stereotypes.”

                  You’re saying, “In particular, I want to say whatever pops into my head about people who’ve gotten the short end of the stick for centuries — and I don’t want to think about whether the things I say are bashing them with that stick one more goddamn time.”

                  You’re saying, “When people speak up about bigotry and discrimination and dehumanization, I don’t want to have to think about the actual content of what they’re saying.”

                  You’re saying, “When people speak up about bigotry and discrimination and dehumanization, I’m not going to engage with the content of what they’re saying — I’m just going to dismiss it wholesale.”

                  You’re saying, “When people speak up about bigotry and discrimination and dehumanization, I’m not only going to dismiss what they’re saying — I’m going to trivialize the very idea of them speaking about it and asking people to change.”

                  get out of jail free card
                  You’re saying, “Rather than actually thinking carefully about the things I’m saying, I’m just going to say whatever I feel like, and tack on this ‘PC’ line as a Get Out of Jail Free card.”
                  You’re saying, “I want to be able to say things that are damaging — and I don’t just want to avoid accountability. I actually want to be seen as brave and heroic.”

                  You’re saying, “I want to be able to say things that are damaging — and I want to be seen as a champion for free speech.”

                  You’re saying, “I want to be able to say things that are damaging — and I want to act like a martyr when I get called on it.”

                  If you don’t want to be saying any of that — don’t use the phrase “politically correct.”

                  The phrase is supposed to act as a shield, a Get Out of Jail Free card. But for me — and for many other people — it does the opposite. It’s not a shield. It’s an alert. It’s a giant red arrow, saying, “Heads up! This person is probably going to say some seriously douchey bigoted bullshit — so prick up your ears and listen carefully for it.”

                  As well, a favorite explanation that I’ve seen used to explain the Black Lives Matter movement and the counterproductivity of rejecting it with the All Lives Matter response that has some usefulness here:

                  The best explanation we’ve seen so far comes from Reddit, of all places. Last year, in an “Explain Like I’m 5” thread, user GeekAesthete explained, clearly and succinctly, why changing #BlackLivesMatter to #AllLivesMatter is an act of erasure that makes lots of people cringe.

                  GeekAesthete explains:

                  Imagine that you’re sitting down to dinner with your family, and while everyone else gets a serving of the meal, you don’t get any. So you say “I should get my fair share.” And as a direct response to this, your dad corrects you, saying, “everyone should get their fair share.” Now, that’s a wonderful sentiment — indeed, everyone should, and that was kinda your point in the first place: that you should be a part of everyone, and you should get your fair share also. However, dad’s smart-ass comment just dismissed you and didn’t solve the problem that you still haven’t gotten any!

                  The problem is that the statement “I should get my fair share” had an implicit “too” at the end: “I should get my fair share, too, just like everyone else.” But your dad’s response treated your statement as though you meant “only I should get my fair share”, which clearly was not your intention. As a result, his statement that “everyone should get their fair share,” while true, only served to ignore the problem you were trying to point out.

              3. Stellaaaaa

                AAVE is definitely a thing. You probably know the more common ways of describing it as “street” or “urban” talk (I cringe typing those). Maybe you don’t know the AAVE label, but there’s no insisting against the existence of particularly black flavor of communal slang. You’ve never heard anyone say “yo” or “word”?

              4. N.J.

                If you have t heard of AAVE, a lot of people know it by the previous name Ebonics.

                I acknowledged that the candidate failed to code switch. My point notwithstanding, I would probably not hire a candidate who used slang either.

                However, there is nothing untrue, overwrought or lemming like in my comment. (I use this characterization because you incorrectly assumed I was jumping on a band wagon…). African American Vernacular English is a recognized linguistic phenomenon and has been so since at least the early 70s. Your comment proves one of my points–we need to be aware as a society of the cultural and historical contexts of power and privilege, in this case how they relate to race and language. Surprisingly, the Wikipedia article for this topic is well written and comprehensive. It would be a good introduction to AAVE if you are so interested. As a Southerner, you should be aware of the role that language plays in perceptions of competence, intelligence and being perceived as well-spoken. Southern English has its own long history of being used to unfairly stereotype Southerners-for example the use of words such as “y’all” and “aint”, or the rejection of the southern accent. I grew up and live in Appalachia. The variety of English used here is often viewed as a distinct linguistic dialect of English and its users face similar challenges. Is it really that hard to imagine those types of stereotypes being at play when using AAVE as well?

                1. Simonthegreywarden

                  I am white but my job entails tutoring students who are by and large in remedial education classes, and many of my students are black, so I see this playing out when they are taking to each other using AAVE, but come to me to say that their papers sound too ‘street’ and they need help. It’s a balancing act because I know their future reception in the working world will require code switching and essentially being fluent in two languages, but I also don’t want to crush their voice out of their writing and replace it with mine, because I believe most of the strength writing comes from its authenticity. I know very well the weight of “well spoken” and try to make sure my discussion of writing is not similarly loaded (though let’s be honest, academic language about writing is almost entirely culturally white). And I know I probably get it wrong sometimes.

                  All that to say, I think Beth was probably not herself racist. However, I also think that the company is doing the right thing by taking this so seriously, because she doesn’t have to be racist to ascribe to a racist understanding of language. Also, it is damn hard for people to see their privilege and to recognize the systemic racism that favors terms like being ‘well spoken’ and ‘so articulate,’ and even in some cases ‘cultural fit’ or ‘business norms.’

              5. SarahTheEntwife

                AAVE = African-American Vernacular English. You’re almost certainly very familiar with the dialect even if you haven’t seen it referred to by that specific term.

              6. Chinook

                “You have to sound professional in the workplace. ”

                I agree with this. And it is possible to sound professional using a different dialect. Up in Canada, there is a distinct Newfie dialect (which is not slang, as was stated on “Bones” this week) that has a lot of baggage attached to it. If you here someone use it fluently, as a standard English speaker, you would understand about 10% but you could still tell whether or no they are well spoken. But it wouldn’t be considered professional in mainland Canada because only a small percentage of the population could understand it. Being able to “code switch” is a required skill if you want to work in an office, just like knowing how to work a computer and what the dress code is. If Beth had a full selection of qualified applicants, I can understand why she would go with one of them over an applicant who doesn’t understand the requirements of given job.

                As a side note, “Bones” got so much wrong about Newfoundland in their episode set there it was distracting. None of the accents were even close to being correct, the RCMP do not wear anything red on their day-to-day uniform but they do have a prominent yellow stripe down their pants, the police cruiser they used stated “ERT” on the side which means it is from their tactical unit not regular duties, and can somebody please tell me why they took a float plane to St. John’s when they have a fully functioning international airport there?

                Sorry for going off topic, AAM.

              7. Lurker Commenting

                Have you heard of ebonics? Because that’s the same thing as AAVE, which stands for African American Vernacular English, it’s just a term that has fallen out of use in recent years.

                Even if you aren’t familiar with the term AAVE, you are familiar with it. What is less known (and as N.J. explained) many of its grammatical elements are consistent with the grammar of West African languages.

                You mention you are from the south. I have no idea if you have an accent or not, but has it ever bothered you that people from the north (which I am) have a tendency to assume that people with southern accents are less intelligence? Because that’s basically what a characterization of equating AAVE with poor speaking is. Except that is also mixed with hundreds of years of potent racism.

                From the OP’s update, I would tend to believe that the job candidate was speaking in a register that was far too informal for an interview and that Beth unwittingly described her reasons for rejecting the candidate in coded terms that reveal implicit racial bias.

                I’m not saying people should just throw around the word “Bae,” which is completely a slang term and I think slang terms are generally inappropriate for interviews, but saying that a person of a color is not well-spoken for using double negatives or other aspects of AAVE would be racist.

            2. Triceratops

              “The job candidate is guilty of not being able to code-switch properly.”

              Exactly. Beth gave this as the ONLY reason for not hiring the candidate. I kind of doubt that it’s likely to rise to the level of a winnable discrimination suit, but let’s acknowledge that the supposedly “objective standard” Beth (and many, many other folks in hiring) used on this person disproportionately impacts people of color (ie, it’s racist).

              1. JMegan

                I agree that it’s probably not a winnable discrimination suit, based on a sample size of one and also on Henry’s update above that a POC was ultimately hired for this position. And not that the plaintiff needs my approval, but I think it’s worthwhile to bring all these issues out in the open. At worst, they’re now probably having the same conversation we are about how racial issues can present in the workplace. It’s an expensive way to go about it, but I definitely think it’s a conversation worth having.

                1. Emi.

                  Yeah, but a threatening lawsuit is by definition antagonistic–I don’t think that’s a productive way to have a “conversation.”

                2. Alice

                  From the hiring manager’s point of view, the “worst” aspect of this situation is being on unpaid leave. (OP Henry mentioned it in the comments — you didn’t miss it in the letter.)
                  Sure, these discussions are valuable and a lot of people here in the comments have learned from this particular discussion, but there’s a cloud here as well as a silver lining — especially for Henry, since he’s the one who will need to mentor/manage the hiring manager when she comes back or replace her if she leaves.

                3. JMegan

                  @Emi., I agree, and the plaintiff is not likely to be involved in the conversation in Henry’s workplace regardless. The most likely outcome for the plaintiff is that he will have invested time and money into this lawsuit, that he almost certainly won’t see again. And he certainly won’t see whatever the outcome is at the workplace either. I guess I’m thinking from his point of view, maybe he’s trying to be a catalyst for social change, even if he won’t directly see the results in this instance?

                  And @Alice, you’re right – I didn’t consider the impact on Beth (or Henry, for that matter). No doubt it’s a stressful situation for everyone, and “expensive” in more ways than just money. I think where I’m going with all this is that social progress is slow and messy, but hopefully at the end of it all there is value in bringing things out in the open like this.

                4. JB (not in Houston)

                  Emi–you’re right, strictly speaking, but I can understand why, in this country, some minorities are done with trying to have non-antagonistic conversations where they go out of their way not to make anyone feel defensive. Those “conversations” haven’t worked.

            3. Mazzy

              But white people dont get a pass to use vernacular from “white culture” in interviews, for example to say “like incessantly” or use valley girl or “surfer dude” tone. It’s not appropriate for an interview

              1. N.J.

                Objectively, slang is never appropriate in a professional context. The problem that I have been trying to point out is that the criteria or objective for what qualifies as proper or accepted language is set, codified, enforced and created by the dominant culture. That dominant culture in the US is “white culture.” Language codification can amount to structural racism, as someone mentioned way upthread. Penalizing a member of the dominant culture for using non-standard language, such as with your valley girl example, still causes harm to the Valley Girl. However, that harm is often of a different depth, complexity and lasting impact than the harm that is caused to a member of the non-dominant culture who uses non-standard language. This has me shifting close to some sort of discussion of privilege or intersectionality, so I will try to be brief. As individuals, we all face barriers and consequences when we deviate from the norm. That norm is always setby those in power. We will all face harm at some point by deviating from the norm. Society does not largely accept difference or deviation, its aim is to homogenize. The harm a member of the dominant group would face by using slang equals x. The harm that member faces by also being a member of a non-dominant group might be x+2. Or looking at the reverse, the non-dominant identity is the harm value of x+2. The dominant identity might be a -2, so the harm is now x+1. To use your example very crudely and bluntly-a Valley Girl is going to be dinged because she is speaking in a manner rejected because of its regionalism, I formality and association with a feminized speaking pattern. For example, uptalj is viewed as part of the valley girl speaking pattern and uptalk is penalized in women. So your Valley Girl is rejected because she is female, but slightly acceptable because she is white. Now what if your only other candidate is an Ebonics speaking black candidate? Who is mama? Or female? Or shows other indicators of socioeconomic status etc. through language? If we assume that every interviewer had some ingrained biases that even they aren’t aware of, who would they choose if they had to choose the Valley girl or the black Ebonics speaker? What cultural identities and patterns do they privilege? Both are deviant speakers, but history would suggest that the black Ebonics speaker could be judged more harshly or in other circumstances that the woman could be judged more harshly. A deviant speaker who is white has an automatic cultural advantage and privilege in many situations.

                So what if deviant white speakers are also penalized? They are often not going to be penaluzed in the same way, extent or impact. Your point is a false equivalency.

                1. Simonthegreywarden

                  In support, when my mom moved up north from the deep south, she found that her accent meant everyone read her uneducated. She taught herself not to have it; she went from Mississippi rural to a faint genteel Georgia drawl, and all of a sudden she was treated far more respectfully because Mississippi sounds ‘poor’ and Georgia sounds romantic and classy. It was more classist than racist since she is white, but deviating from the norm did cause hardships as you said.

            4. Retail HR Guy

              Yep, he comes from a subculture. That doesn’t come anywhere close to an excuse for calling your interviewer “dawg”.

              Honestly, I find it much more offensive to think that black people are incapable of recognizing what is and isn’t appropriate in an professional setting. They are not poor, confused, sheltered, oppressed victims waiting for the enlightened internet to come and rescue them from the implicit bias of an old white lady. That’s patronizing and also just plan *incorrect*. If you were to do a survey of inner-city black folks and ask them whether or not it’s appropriate to call their interviewer “dawg” do you really think they would not know the answer? They’re black, not stupid.

              Some people are so concerned with being actively not racist they bend over backwards so far that now *they* are the ones treating people differently because of their race. Yeah, he’s black. What’s slang to us may be closer to regular language for him. But he still should know better than to say that crap in an interview.

            5. SCAnonabrarian

              *Applause*

              Also, it’s just lazy, and very easy to mis-interpret because it is really commonly considered a racist statement. “Not well-spoken” can mean:
              1) The interviewer is racist
              2) The interviewer is not in touch with youth/AAVE/PoC/internet culture
              3) The interviewer has a hearing impediment or mental bias reacting badly to the applicant’s speech patterns (see the billions of articles bemoaning “uptalk” or “vocal fry” in women and how if we say “like” there’s just no way to actually understand any other words coming from our mouths, or the equally horrific stories where people claim they can tell people’s race over the phone by their speech patterns.)
              4) The applicant has a speech impediment.
              5) The applicant uses overly casual or overly familiar speech in a formal environment (which are different things: I personally would be WAY more ok with someone using “woke” in an interview (overly casual) than them introducing themselves with “yo, dawg, s’up?” (overly familiar)
              6) The applicant uses obscene or crass language in a formal setting.
              7) The applicant uses language incorrectly (inaccurate word meanings, taking into account all dialects) or does not show proficiency in speaking “standard received english” in a formal setting.
              8 through infinity) other language difficulties I haven’t thought of, but don’t negate the overall point.

              Why, when hiring someone, would you use a phrase that can be interpreted several different ways that ALL make you look bad, when you can just be freaking specific and SAY what the applicant actually did? One of the major reasons is because the person using the phrase is racist, or is unconsciously biased enough to not realize that the phrase itself is generally a racist commentary. Just be specific! In this case, Beth could have listed 5 and 7, which seem to have been the case here, and been perfectly fine.

              And before someone gets huffy about it taking longer or being harder to clarify things that way, as an interviewer you’re supposed to be thinking things out clearly for your hiring decisions anyway, so it shouldn’t be difficult to articulate the specifics if you’re already thinking clearly about them, and it is preferable in business and life to be clear and specific when you can be, so there’s really no excuse (other than being unaware, and that only works til you’re told the first time) for using loaded language like that.

              All that said, from what I can see here, Beth was right, and the candidate was not the right fit, but someone really ought to try and make her see how statements like “not well spoken” are really truly problematic. Unfortunately, this seems like it’s become a massive thing now and has a sad chance of leaving Beth more biased rather than less, simply because of all the negative attention.

          2. Katie the Fed

            I didn’t say it was the same thing; I said it reminded me of that. Because to be fair, in a lot of people’s minds professional = white (looking/sounding/etc).

            And you really don’t need to be an expert on slang and modern language to know what black language sounds like.

            1. fposte

              And while “well spoken” is a slightly more complicated one in that being well spoken is also a legitimate thing to seek for some jobs in the way being “non-urban” really isn’t, they are both common dog-whistle/unconscious ways to exclude African Americans. That’s why I’m surprised that Beth framed it that way–I thought the word had gotten around on “well-spoken” as a problematic phrase when it came to race. It too often means “can tell s/he’s black.”

              1. fposte

                To be clear, I’m not saying that Beth was out of line here; just mentioning the bad history and current use that makes this phrase a tricky one.

                1. Katie the Fed

                  Yes. I actually think (based on the additional information Henry provided) that Beth did nothing wrong. But the way it was framed above doesn’t sound good.

                2. LBK

                  Yeah, there’s a completely legitimate point that could be made about speaking too casually for a formal interview, but the way Beth’s chosen to describe and frame it is a whole chorus of dog whistles.

                3. Elsajeni

                  I also found the phrasing “slang terms she didn’t understand” concerning — the problem was that he used inappropriately casual and slangy language at all, right? Like, if he’d heavily used the slang of Beth’s teenage years — let us assume that Beth is about my age and level of coolness and imagine him describing his last job as “all that and a bag of chips” — she might have understood him fine, but she still would have had the same concerns about having him communicate with clients. But the phrasing Beth chose to express that puts the emphasis on the specific choice of slang terms, not on the inappropriately casual tone… which does raise some concerns about how unconscious bias might have played into the selection process.

              2. Mazzy

                I’d hate to be antagonistic here but I’m questioning the biases of some of the conmenters here themselves when you keep bringing up these old stereotypes. I interview and this is not a stereotype playing out at all in my diverse candidate pools

                1. LBK

                  I’m not quite sure what you mean – are you saying that you don’t see candidates coming in acting like stereotypes?

                2. MsCHX

                  They aren’t old Mazzy. That’s why they keep coming up. They still persist today.

                  America is large. You may not see it play out in your area – and that’s great. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. It DOES. That’s why it won’t go away in discussion…because it won’t go away in real life.

              3. Jamie

                I had no idea “well spoken” was any kind of dog whistle before reading these posts. I’ve told my kids their whole lives they will be grateful I raised them to be well spoken and use proper manners as those are two of the first things people use to judge others as adults.

                I’ve never used it about or to an African American person, but I had no idea it was a loaded phrase.

                Of course one has to be sensitive to that, but it doesn’t discount that in some positions being well spoken (no dog whistle – just being articulate, grammatically correct, large enough vocabulary for nuance, etc.) is a legit requirement. Is it the wording that’s problematic or would saying someone wasn’t articulate enough for the position be the same?

                No snark, I’m trying to learn because many communication styles aren’t appropriate in some positions having nothing to do with race so how would one address this? I have some family members from Appalachia and know plenty of people here in Chicago (all white) who would be out of consideration for any job which required the applicant to be well spoken.

                (Not that I expect you to have all my answers, fposte, I just consolidated all my thoughts in this post I replied to.)

                1. JB (not in Houston)

                  The fact that you’ve been able to go your whole life without knowing that this is a loaded term when applied to African Americans says a lot about your privilege in life. That is not at all a criticism. It’s just an observation. It means you’ve been able to go through life without that kind of coded language being used against you or anyone you care about or are close to. And that’s part of the problem in this country. So many of us live in bubbles not understanding how pervasive and insidious racism still is in this country, and if we don’t actively go out and try to learn about it, we don’t know it’s happening. And that enables us to downplay or shrug off the complaints of people who say it’s still happening.

          3. Lili

            Right. Switch the candidate’s race to Appalachian “white trash” and I wonder if Beth would have said the same thing. No way to know, but I would guess she would.

            Also, what *is* the appropriate amount of slang for a workplace? I would guess very little to none, although I’m sure it varies by industry. I live in the north now but I grew up on the south, so the most I say at work is “y’all”.

            1. Agnodike

              It depends on the type and origin of the slang, and that’s a whole OTHER conversation about the ways that racist attitudes underlie cultural norms. I, and my bosses, and everyone I know, use slang in the workplace all the time. Sometimes I say something is “awesome” or “cool.” Occasionally I’ll respond to a colleague’s complaint with a sympathetic “that sucks,” or “that’s really crummy.” I would use and have used that level of language in interviews and formal settings, too, and wouldn’t think twice about it. (In an interview there would of course be more “cools” than “crummys,” because, you know, it’s good to project yourself as a positive person!) People use slang literally all the time, except in the most formal settings. (I would not tell the Queen of England that I think her corgis are cool but weird, even though I definitely think her corgis are cool but weird.)

              At work or in a formal setting, however, I would never, ever replace “cool” or “crummy” with the equivalent slang from my own culture, because it would be received completely differently. What feels “slangy” and what feels “appropriate” or “professional” has a lot to do with congruence with the mainstream culture. That could be cultural, it could be racial, it could be class-based…it can come from pretty much any power differential present in our society, and there are PLENTY from which to choose.

              1. fposte

                That’s a really interesting point–that it’s not simply formal vs. slang, and that what kind of slang you’re using will affect reception. I was thinking how “cool” is an example of something that was originally AAVE and now no longer has that connotation–which may have to do with its increasing acceptability.

              2. JB (not in Houston)

                Yep, I was about to make the same point. *Everyone* uses slang in the workplace, even in job interviews. Can you imagine how stilted you would sound if you spoke in an interview the way you write in formal paper? Who would hire that person? No, we all use slang, but only some slang is considered acceptable–so acceptable that we don’t even notice it’s being used.

              3. Turtle Candle

                That’s an interesting way to frame it, and yeah, you’re totally right. There’s a process by which words get absorbed from slang into the mainstream language, including sometimes formal language, eventually. (This makes some scenes from older books unintentionally humorous–I read a lot of children’s fiction dating from 1900-1930 where children were scolded for their “slangy” talk when the phrases were to me entirely neutral, or if anything slightly formal.)

                And in between there’s a phase where a term becomes sort of “slang lite.” To me, words like “cool” are there–I wouldn’t use it in a formal paper or presentation, but during an interview I might say “oh, that’s cool!” spontaneously.

                And what can make this tricky is that different regions, industries, etc., may calibrate this differently.

            2. Mazzy

              Are you saying that if the candidate would have spoken like mama June from honey boo boo that that would have made for a better candidate. Really?

            3. Arjay

              What I’m struggling with is “what is the appropriate amount of slang for an interview?” I’m trying to think of things I’d say in an interview about my “bae” or something being “on fleek.” I’m probably going to actively avoid talking about my boyfriend in an interview. “As you can see, my resume is on fleek”? When I try code-switching it in my head, I still don’t see when I’d use a similar standard phrase.

              1. Troutwaxer

                This being a non-profit, I wonder whether the job candidate was trying to show Beth that he could communicate with “the street” and it backfired.

                Assuming that this is a non-profit that specifically works with the Black community, the ability to code-switch quickly and accurately from rich-white-donor-speak to AAVE, (and maybe hit some of the speech styles in between accurately) would probably be a job-requirement, particularly if the job involves mostly communicating with donors. That being said, Beth’s “not well-spoken” thing is definitely a red flag.

                On the subject of defending Beth, (and assuming that she’s doing a first interview and being a sort of gate-keeper) I’d be curious about the percentage of applicants she chose for a first interview who had “Black” names like Lakeisha or Treyvon, and how many second interview candidates she chose who were specifically Black, (as opposed to being people-of-color) and whether the person who landed the job was specifically Black (as opposed to being a person-of-some-other-color.) If these records are available, the OP could look them over.

                In terms of putting on a legal defense of either the organization or of Beth, it might be useful to get pictures of some of the applicants Beth chose, which might be available from the security system (if one is installed.)

          4. Kate

            I agree with you. I am a frequent reader of Jezebel, a magazine which fervently supports BLM, women’s rights, etc, and has a very young, mostly female commentariat of many races. I have seen the words “woke” and “fleek” there, but I am not exactly aware of what “fleek” means other than good.

            I am 26 and I don’t know what some of the words the Interviewee used, despite my experience. I live in a very progressive city and I can guarantee you that virtually no one in this city who isn’t in their teens and 20’s, highly involved in internet communities that use the words, or interacts a lot with young AA people will know what those mean.

            And from what I remember of being a teenager and (I am really dating myself here) saying that things are “fat”, “tight”, etc, most older people don’t understand teenage (and 20’s) slang, regardless of whether it is typically African American or white or from other races.

            The interview is a place to showcase the best of yourself, to show your skills. A critical skill in any job is communication. Communicating with your coworkers and your clients. OP says this is a communications job, so that makes it doubly important.

            The Interviewee’s slang would be just as bad if it was older slang or had become more widely understood. How many of us would be okay if the Interviewee walked in and said “Hey dude, I totally like, love your bling! It’s the bomb! By the way, don’t be buggin, this interview is gonna be so fat!”

        2. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.

          When you are in charge of hiring, you HAVE to be aware of your responsibilities to your org to

          1) be fair in hiring and also
          2) give the appearance of being fair in hiring

          Being fair while also giving a bad appearance (and opening you and your org up to unnecessary criticism or suits) is not fulfilling your entire responsibility.

          I feel for Beth, but she dropped the ball in using what is also a racist cliche. It’s just not necessary and nothing good is going to happen next.

          1. Henry

            It’s in the job posting though and it’s a requirement for the job. I was there when HR wrote up the job posting. It’s not racist for Beth to say a candidate didn’t meet something that is literally in the job posting.

            1. N.J.

              It’s highly unlikely though that the job posting said well-spoken or user of formal language. It might have said the candidate needs good verbal and written communication skills or something about professionalism in client interactions. Only you know the exact wording. Nobody necessarily saying that Beth didn’t make the correct hiring decision. What many folks are saying is that Beth’s approach to the slang using black candidate seems at least vaguely steeped in and based upon the cultural perceptions we have built as a society that negatively perceive PoC and users of non-standard English variants, or at the least that it is not unreasonable that the candidate would perceive her actions that way. We all make decisions based on stereotyping, even the most enlightened among us, and recognizing when those patterns might be at play is an important thing. Beth will most likely come out of this with her integrity completely intact but it would be remiss of your company not to investigate or acknowledge the possibility of this being racist. I would go so far as to say they have a moral obligation to do so.

              1. Henry

                With respect, you are incorrect because the job was for a role in communion, the posting mentioned giving press conferences and speaking to elected officials and the phrase was included in the posting. Beth didn’t make the phrase up or pull it out of the air.

                1. Leatherwings

                  So either Beth’s description of the use of slang OR your job posting uses language that, as N.J. says, is at least vaguely steeped in historically discriminatroy language. You’re doing a huge disservice to your company here by refusing to at least consider that possibility.

                  That doesn’t mean the job description and/or Beth is behaving in a racist way, but it’s worth looking at whether your hiring process can be tweaked to be less exclusionary and more inclusive.

                2. N.J.

                  Point taken. I defer to your knowledge of the wording. That is a very troublesome word choice to have used as Leathereings has described. Well-spoken isn’t quantifiable and is problematic as a measurement of required communication skills. Some definitions used include: adjective (well spoken when postpositive) 1. having a clear, articulate, and socially acceptable accent and way of speaking. 2. spoken satisfactorily or pleasingly.
                  (of a person) speaking in an educated and refined manner.

                  Most of these definitions are highly subjective in their terms. What was your company actually seeking out for this role? Would it have been better to pick a specific set of communication criteria that describe the ideal candidate?

                3. Troutwaxer

                  I think the phrase “not well-spoken” can definitely be a racist code-phrase when applied to an actual Black person. However, on a job advertisement something like “Communications director for non-profit, must have BA or BS degree, strong written skills, must be well-spoken… etc.” doesn’t throw up any red flags. The real problem with the language is that when someone later decides that the best fit happens not to be a particular Black candidate, you’ve now set yourself up for an accusation of using coded language. “Strong verbal skills” is probably a better fit here.

                  The real problem here is that language changes, and what once was not coded speech becomes coded speech over time, and someone Beth’s age can easily stumble over that issue. I’m older-than-fifty and sometimes have problems with the fact that certain courtesies have changed over time and I haven’t kept up. I like to think that my heart is in the right place, but that wouldn’t keep me out of a lawsuit. : (

              2. Kate

                Um, how on earth would a person using “non-standard English variants” (I am guessing that means slang?) be able to do a good job in a communications position? A position which probably involves speech-writing and giving and possibly writing material for distribution.

                If you can switch back and forth between “grammatically correct English without slang” and “normal English with slang”, then that’s fine and you are hireable, but the place to show that you can do that is in the interview. That is pretty much all the interviewer has to go on for verbal communication skills.

                It is hard but necessary to switch back and forth, not just to be able to communicate with others in your workplace, but to appear professional. I wouldn’t use slang in my workplace, I use that with my friends and family.

                I grew up in an impoverished rural area where “proper English” wasn’t often used. I sometimes have to stop myself from saying to my coworkers something like “Dude I totes saw a mad movie this weekend! It was the bomb!”. Even know that I have been hired that still wouldn’t be okay when we are expected to be professional in the workplace.

                As a young, white woman, I find the implication that employers shouldn’t be expected to have “can communicate professionally” and “speaks grammatically correct English” as part of their hiring standards to be incredibly confusing and strange.

            2. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.

              Here’s my story, 1981.

              I was a 21 year old, very white, young woman who got a job as a receptionist for a nationally famous at that time telemarketing sales org. We were based in CC Philly and part of my job was to screen the phone applicants for the jobs. This was many calls a day. Criteria: “good phone voice, well spoken”.

              About two weeks into my job, the district managers pulled me into the Big Office.

              Them: “You’ve entirely change our hiring.”

              Me, stunned, feeling small. “What?”

              Them: “Well, apparently the previous receptionist was racist or something because we never saw black applicants. Now we have a waiting room filled with at least half black people. And it’s been like that since you started.”

              Me: “What?”

              Them: “Keep it up. We’re getting good people!”

              So, there’s my take on the historical history of why Beth’s reason is just, loaded. Again, I feel for Beth! But the loading isn’t out of thin air. It’s a real thing.

          2. AnonAnalyst

            Yeah, after seeing the additional context that Henry provided I think Beth was totally justified in passing on that candidate, but the wording for the reason she passed was poorly chosen (assuming that “not well spoken” was her way of phrasing it and not just the Henry’s paraphrasing). I can understand why it raised red flags with the candidate.

            Hopefully everything will turn out satisfactorily for all…

          3. Turtle Candle

            Yes, I think where I personally fall on this is that Beth probably made the right hiring decision, but also that it sounds like she could do with some coaching as to avoid painfully loaded language; even if it was truly innocently meant, it’s not something that looks or sounds good and could cause the org problems.

          1. Purest Green

            I would expect some level of code-switching, but you’re totally right. What’s standard in one region or even one workplace might be very different from another one.

            1. Jamie

              This. I can’t imagine anyone who hires being okay with that. It’s announcing “I don’t understand professional norms. At all.” as they walk in the door.

              I have a friend who uses that word a lot amongst his buddies, it’s a just their version of bruh, buddy, or dude. Totally fine in a social context. But if Beth’s interview was the whitest white guy in the world and came in and called her hon, or sweetie, or dog….it would be just as wildly inappropriate because it’s far too familiar for an interview.

              The guy who called me “chicklet” in an interview was as white as I am and had he not sucked in 700 other ways (and he did) he still wouldn’t have been hired. Customer facing positions you have to trust that they understand social norms and familiarity like this screams that they do not.

              (chicklet guy also reeked of sexism so I’m aware it’s not exactly the same.)

          2. One of the Annes

            Collectively, the businesses, the news and business media, and the dictionaries and usage guides that exist at any one point in time. Like English in general, standard business English changes over time, but we can identify prevailing current standards.

          3. Annonymouse

            Most people would agree it doesn’t contain slang words for a government contracted communications position that involves speeches and talking with elected officials.

            But that’s just me.

        1. Phyllis B

          I totally agree with you, One of the Annes!! I realize as a white middle-aged Southern woman I am totally out of touch. I have no idea what any of these slang terms mean, and I have no idea what AAVE is.

          I do know if I was interviewing someone who made over-use of slang of any kind and I had the choice to hire someone who was both qualified and well-spoken I would certainly make them my first choice. This letter did not address whether this candidate was well-qualified for this position.

          1. Henry

            This candidate was qualified, but there was a more qualified candidate who met more of the specs in the job posting than any of the other 5 people who Beth interviewed.

            1. Manic Pixie HR Girl

              Which is what Beth should have said in her explanation for why she hired who she did. Full stop. I’m a little concerned that HR let Beth put the additional explanation on the record, and that may be part of the issue. Hiring managers say stupid things *all the time*, thinking that they are innocuous, when they very much are not. (Cue me having to explain to a (female!) manager why she couldn’t give her (male) employee ribbing for wanting to take paternity leave, for example …)

              *For the record, I live and work in an insular, upper middle class white community, and know “fleek,” “bae,” and “woke.” I think of the first two as “young people slang” (It never occurred to me that it came from AAVE, though reading the above comments it makes perfect sense), the third not so much. I’ve seen “woke” a LOT in my own communities in reference to intersectional feminism and would not consider it slang. (Rather, jargon … which I realize at it’s heart is the same thing, but jargon is not considered “inappropriate.” Anyway, I digress.)

              1. Katie the Fed

                “Hiring managers say stupid things *all the time*”

                Can confirm. I once asked for feedback on why I didn’t get a job and the hiring manager said “Well, you’re probably assuming it’s because you’re a woman….”

                Actually no, I wasn’t. But now I am!

              2. Jerry Vandesic

                Did Beth write her feedback after meeting with all candidates, or simply after each interview completed? To Manic’s comment, Beth might not have seen all the other candidates before writing her feedback, so she couldn’t have put it in the context of the other five she interviewed.

              3. JS

                Agreed. Beth was toying with Pandora’s box when she wrote anything that could be tied to stereotypes or race. Plenty of things she could have wrote to mean the same thing too “unprofessionalism” “not up to par with client communications” anything that makes her interpretation of him about the JOB and not about him personally.

              4. LizB

                +10000. It would have been soooo easy to say “We had an exceptionally qualified candidate and offered the position to them.” You really don’t need to get into exactly what was wrong with the rejected candidate’s qualifications at all.

              5. Elizabeth H.

                Right, it makes me really wonder why the applicant felt he had grounds to make an accusation of racism in hiring; I’m wondering if the feedback given (either upon request or not) literally said that, not well spoken, and made reference to use of these specific slang words – if so, yikes. If the reason is really that “You were qualified for this position, as were several other of the excellent candidates we interviewed, however, we ultimately hired the candidate with the most experience/qualifications” they should have written that, no?

                1. Henry

                  You were qualified for this position, as were several other of the excellent candidates we interviewed, however, we ultimately hired the candidate with the most experience/qualifications”

                  HR gives every rejected candidate genric feedback like this. Beth did not give the candidate any feedback.

                2. Elizabeth H.

                  Hi Henry, thanks for letting me know this. In this context plus the other context you’ve provided, it seems really strange that this spurred an investigation of racism, if no such feedback about communication skills or anything like that was communicated to the candidate himself.

              6. Incognito from search for a second

                At one point in my career a hiring manager told me he preferred to hire women because for them it’s “ancillary income” so they’ll work for lower pay than men who “have to support families.”

                We had a meeting with the owners of the company and HR that afternoon because my ears were bleeding. After explaining to him what was wrong with that mindset, because he was truly baffled candidate selection was given to someone who didn’t get their ideas about women in the workplace from Ralph Kramden, and I was told I should go through employee pay rates for positions under his umbrella so I could satisfy myself there were no discrepancies. There were not as the position paid a fixed rate and he didn’t have the authority to change it, but how many guys weren’t offered the job because he thought it was too low and couldn’t support a family? Still bothers me.

                Thing is they did some things right on paper upon my informing them , but it was very clear they didn’t appreciate me making a big deal about this. The offer to “let me satisfy myself” with payroll records was sarcastic and meant to show me I was being ridiculous. If any of them had the verbal skills to do so, I’d have assumed “satisfy myself” was a euphemism to do something else to myself, such was the tone. I noted the insult but damn sure looked at the records.

                I’m still amazed he could say that, to me, and not have any idea that was out of line until he saw my reaction. And also in speaking to me referring to women as “they.” As if being management I wouldn’t be offended that income for my gender is ancillary. Perhaps he thought I worked there because I lacked hobbies, or had no where else to be during the day…because surely I wasn’t using my income to support my family?

              7. Incognito from search for a second

                *For the record, I live and work in an insular, upper middle class white community, and know “fleek,” “bae,” and “woke.” I think of the first two as “young people slang” (It never occurred to me that it came from AAVE, though reading the above comments it makes perfect sense), the third not so much. I’ve seen “woke” a LOT in my own communities in reference to intersectional feminism and would not consider it slang. (Rather, jargon … which I realize at it’s heart is the same thing, but jargon is not considered “inappropriate.” Anyway, I digress.)

                I live in a community similar to you and that’s the only place I’ve heard those words…in my own house. My daughter and her friends are all about fleek eyebrows and their baes. Woke I have seen online regarding social issues and I understand the meaning.

                If I were interviewing someone fleek and bae would make me raise an eyebrow because I’d have known not to say bitchin or rad when I was that age (I just totally dated myself.)

                Tbh if someone said woke I wouldn’t know off the top of my head if it was proper in context (as you say, slang vs jargon) so I would check with someone more in touch with the usage. Simply because I would be afraid I’d have an unconscious bias and make the wrong call.

          2. Marillenbaum

            It’s African American Vernacular English. It is no less “correct” than any other dialect of English; the difference is that because certain types of English are viewed as more “acceptable” in a professional context (which as a rule tends to exclude and other non-white people), it disproportionately affects Black and African-American people. There is a long history of “articulate” or “well spoken” being given as backhanded compliments to POC who do not use AAVE around white people; the implication being that as a rule, Black people are not well-spoken. And yes, you are out of touch; we all have things of which we aren’t aware, but especially as a fellow Southerner, we can’t pretend that racial bias in language isn’t a Thing, when it most assuredly is.

        2. LJL

          One of the Annes, I agree. I come from an area where many (white) people speak a nonstandard dialect. It’s a fine line when i teach them of standard English without impugning their home. But it’s absolutely a thing for all races.

        3. Leatherwings

          Woah woah woah. “standard business English” is a pretty common dog whistle to say “no ebonics or ethnic accents, POC need to assimilate to white culture.” That may not be exactly what you mean or have in mind, but that’s what it implies to non-white people. It’s really really exclusionary.

          Professional communication is one thing, but businesses have to recognize that professional communication doesn’t mean one thing (the same way standard business English does).

            1. Leatherwings

              “Professional Communication” is fine. A few people above had other specific suggestions.

              But “Use Standard Business English” is pretty well established code for “please talk like a white person”

      5. Sans

        I’m a 56 year old white women and know what all those words mean. But if I was interviewing someone, I would think those are inappropriate words to use during an interview – like any other slang word. It’s got nothing to do with color. And I get that there are people who ARE racist and would call a black person not well-spoken for racist reasons. But some people truly aren’t well-spoken, and that goes for every color. It’s a legitimate criticism and not something that should heavily point to racism.

        1. Jessie the First (or second)

          I think you (and several others) are misunderstanding something that I think is really crucial, and it is resulting in defensiveness.

          I don’t really think people are calling Beth racist. There is a long and significant history of “not well-spoken” being an actual code for “acts too black, not white enough.”

          This DOES NOT MEAN that everyone, or even most people, nowadays mean that racist thing when they say the phrase. But it does absolutely mean that a black person hearing “you aren’t well-spoken” wouldn’t be unreasonable for thinking it had racist undertones or motive. It’s a phrase that has been used as a racist code for decades upon decades, and so we just really should not be surprised when a person interprets the phrase mean there is racism involved. Again, this DOES NOT MEAN that in an individual using the phrase is racist. It means it is not surprising that a person of color who grew up hearing it used in a racist way would hear it now and think “OMG, this is racist.” People hiring would do well to be aware of the standard racist dog whistles and avoid using them (because, if they don’t, this can be what happens – they made a decision for valid, non-racist reasons, but the phrase they used to explain unfortunately aligned with a traditional racist code language).

          Then there is another, more philosophical issue, which is that there is a structural racism – as in, you as an individual are not racist and you are not being called racist – in language. The majority sets the standard for what sounds “normal,” and if the dialect used by the majority differs from the dialect used by the minority, they face a real barrier. So that’s a discussion of “what is professional?” that is related to race, and does not make people racist or unreasonable for being on one side or the other. But it helps to be aware of the history of language and how it can and has functioned as an obstacle to minority populations.

      6. eplawyer

        But Beth is the one doing the hiring. While “well spoken” is often a backhanded way of saying “I can’t believe that person speaks so clearly” in this case, she was saying he was not professional in an interview. Which if he is not professional in an interview when everyone is on their best behavior what is he like when he is not trying to impress.

        I would expect a hiring manager to ding anyone, regardless of race, religion, creed, etc., for overly using slang in an interview. I am a middle aged white woman. If I went to an interview and said “Wowee, I, like, you really want to work here. My last place was like gag with me a spoon.” I would expect to not get the job too. And not because of age or gender discrimination but because I have no idea how to interact in a professional manner when called for.

        Slang is for casual interactions. Not professional ones.

        1. JS

          But in what context? Was it during the professional or personal part of the interview? It is OK to be informal there when asked about your hobbies or what you do outside of work, they want to see your personality not a robot.

          1. eplawyer

            Even when talking about your personal hobbies, you need to be professional. “Like, you know, I like, umm, quilt & stuff because it’s so rad” would be bad. “I like to quilt in my free time. It gives me a creative outlet while still allowing me to relax.” Still personal but said in a professional manner.

        2. LBK

          I don’t think anyone is disagreeing that slang is inappropriate for most interviews, but rather that the way Beth specifically targeted things that are associated with black culture that comes off with problematic implications. She could’ve left it at “spoke too casually for a formal setting” rather than listing a whole bunch of dog whistle terms.

          1. Annonymouse

            Except an actual part of the job description is “to be well spoken”.

            I would make sense to write it out in a way that reflects they didn’t meet that criteria.

            Also if the applicant only got a regular rejection response “we went with a candidate that more closely fits the role” then how or why do they know Beth rejected them for being overly casual in their word choices?

            That’s something that doesn’t add up for me.

      7. JS

        I would also be curious to know the context these were used in. If he used them to describe his professional career or did he use them when she asked him about his personal life and hobbies? I have definitely been asked personal hobbies and questions that make the interview more informal. It’s one thing if he said “my client presentation skills are on fleek!” versus “My hobby is being a sneakerhead. My shoe collection is on fleek!”

      8. 2 Cents

        I’m a Millennial who had no idea that “brick” now means “cold.” And I don’t know what “woke” means, except as the past tense of “to wake.” But knowing when and how to adjust your speech patterns and vocabulary is part of working in a business setting. I use slang in texts (Ur kidding me lol) with friends that I’d never use in emails with coworkers, just as I use corporate speak (“Let’s circle back in a week.”) that I’d never use with friends.

        1. Elizabeth H.

          FWIW, I would point out that there are plenty of examples of people with incredibly high positions (CEO, whatever) who can write ‘ur’ and 5-word emails and get away with it because they are that important and they don’t “have” to speak professionally. Hard to imagine that type of thing working the same way with other types of slang that are associated w/the AAVE register. It’s not just slang vs. not slang, there are different implications to specific vocabularies.

      9. Raine

        This is really presumptuous. What do you know of the optics from online? Here’s what we know from the OP, who is Black: Beth has never exhibited racist tendencies, has a Black grandparent, and spent 3 years with an NGO in Africa.

        1. Leatherwings

          No. Sorry. The optics of using language that’s historically steeped in racism and exclusion to reject a candidate for otherwise valid reasons are bad in and of itself. The individual context around whether Beth is a good person or has a black relative doesn’t make the historical context go away.

        2. MsCHX

          I kid you not, on that last part I was waiting for the ‘lol’. MANY whites in America are NOT overtly racist. The much larger issue is implicit bias. It is harmful. It has always been harmful to brown and black people. At the most extreme, it gets brown/black people killed because dark skin = scary/criminal.

          My biracial (black/caucasian) great grandmother was quite racist towards blacks. She often referred to my brother as “the black one”. Beth having a black grand parent means nothing.

          ‘White savior’ complex is real. Beth going to NGO in Africa means nothing.

          And based on OPs follow up comments, they can be biased against blacks too. Again, “white is right” is so indoctrinated in our culture that you DO find black people who eschew black culture/venacular/etc because they want to be seen as ‘other’.

        3. Elizabeth H.

          Why should having spent time in Africa (which country? Is it supposed to not matter?) have any reflection or bearing whatsoever on how someone treats black people in the US? Because the residents of the country she was in possibly are the same race as black US residents? That’s like the definition of essentializing.

    2. paul

      Government contracts can tie your hand on a lot of crap. I get CC’d on any HUB reports involved in work and the fact we have to do them at all baffles me (state requires X credentials for one of our subcontractors–there’s 3 NGOs that qualify and NONE of them are HUBs but we have to fill out paperwork every quarter about this).

    3. LW 1

      Thank you for that – I’ve always been a people pleaser, and now it’s just leaving me tired. I’m definitely going to follow this advice because I’m ready to move on from this job once and for all.

      1. Student

        If they get insistent with you when you tell them to contact your old company, have a phone number handy that you can rattle off to them – it can just be the company public business phone number or your former manager’s business number; no need to find a specific person for them. It puts the burden back, properly, on them to find your old company right away but also gives you something to alleviate your need to people-please a little bit.

      2. BRR

        i would definitely reach out to your company. As for when clients calls, a quick way I use to end a call is to say I was on another call. This way you can politely let them know you’re not the contact person but not have a lot of back and forth.

        1. LW 1

          I’m planning to reach out to them today after everyone’s advice. And I like the “on a call” idea, too!

    4. Henry

      Thanks for the replies everyone. Just to clarify, I am Beth’s boss, she is one of my reports. I have seen a few people mention that her being an older, white woman but in terms of age Beth is 29.

      As a POC I understand the bias and problematic nature of saying someone isn’t well spoken, but our industry has involvement in communications, so proper grammar, no slang, speaking clearly without mumbling and using someone’s name and or a formal title (as opposed to slang like dude, dog or bro) are paramount. A candidate who speaks like this in an interview as this candidate did would not work out in our industry and would cause an issue if they wrote and spoke as this candidate did in his interview.

      1. Czhorat

        That you are her boss makes your support of her even more problematic; my initial thoughts were that you should sit back and stay out of it. As her supervisor, I’d suggest in the very, very strongest terms that you cannot offer her support, say “you have her back” or do anything of the kind until this plays out. For a direct supervisor to make statements of support during a racial bias investigation is a bad look, at the very least. It sends the message that you don’t take the investigation seriously and that, organizationally, her actions are being treated as acceptable. Even if you don’t agree with the accusations, you have a responsibility to your organization to stay out of it.

        1. Marcy

          Hmm I disagree with this. There are irrational people out there who will sue/complaint over every little thing, and lawyers out there who will take on even frivolous cases. The organization has an obligation to do the investigation for purposes of due diligence, but the employees don’t have an obligation, if they know the facts, to take every claim seriously. I have defended people who have been the subject of frivolous claims before. Even with the company’s full support, it is a morale killer to have that kind of accusation leveled at you. Beth needs support, and the best way to frame that support is to say “We have to investigate every claim seriously so this is why this is happening, but we have worked with you and know the kind of person you are. We support you.”

          I have seen companies go the other way and it is has been a disaster. You don’t want to send the message that just because some whacko off the street walks in with a complaint, all of a sudden you don’t really know what kind of person Beth is. You’ve worked with her for years. That should have some weight and count for something.

          1. Czhorat

            I see where you’re coming from, but once an investigation has begun we’ve passed the point of “some whacko off the street with a complaint”.

            In all honesty, once the investigation has begun I’d suggest everyone — ESPECIALLY those in a supervisory role above the accused – talk to HR, legal, or someone else up the food chain before saying anything about the issue.

            I honestly wonder how or if Alison’s answer would have been different had the LW presented himself as Beth’s boss rather than as a colleague.

            1. N.J.

              The OP clearly presented in her letter that she is Beth’s boss/supervisor, so I would assume Alison’s answer is fully informed. I agree with your perspective though. If I were Beth’s supervisor I would lean more toward the cautious approach you have suggested, rather than providing 100% support. Even non-racist, impeccably professional and kind folks can perpetuate racist behaviors or stereotypes, I’ve seen it happen more times than I can count, sadly

            2. Marcy

              In my experience, the beginning of the investigation doesn’t mean we’ve passed the point of “some whacko off the street.” It’s how you prove this guy is just some whacko off the street. No well run company will completely dismiss a discrimination claim without doing some sort of investigation, but the fact that an investigation is happening doesn’t mean there is a legitimate claim. It does, however, create the appearance that there is a legitimate claim, because hey, where there is smoke, there is fire, right? That is what kills employee morale. Even if Beth is completely innocent, she now has a stain on her reputation. People who have never worked personally with her might now know her as the woman who was investigated for being racist to a black man during an interview. It is a terrible thing to go through and I would never recommend that the company quarantine her and withhold support or comment (especially since she’s already being suspended in this case).

              As long as the boss doesn’t say something like “I know you didn’t do this, I’m going to fabricate some evidence to prove it!” I don’t see what the problem is. How is saying “I’ve worked with you for a long time and I know you’re a good person” going to impact this case?

            3. Viktoria

              He did say that in the first line of the letter: “one of the employees I oversee.” I think some people missed that.

            4. Joan Holloway

              I thought the LW did present himself as Beth’s boss in the letter by referring to Beth as “one of the supervisors I oversee.”

              1. Joan Holloway

                Sorry!! I should have refreshed again before commenting. I apologize, Czhorat. Didn’t mean to pile on.

            5. AD

              There seems to be a ton of splitting hairs in the comments of OP/Henry’s language in the original letter, and pushing back about what he’s shared with us in the comments.

              Can we take OPs at their word and not continually badger or question them?

        2. DeskBird

          I don’t think that’s true at all. If I were in trouble at work and my supervisor told me he 100% believed I made the right call and didn’t do anything wrong – but he wasn’t going to support me because “It might look bad” I would feel betrayed. If you boil the whole thing down (and believe the LW – which we are suppose to do) the candidate acted unprofessional during an interview – and they decided to hire someone who was both more professional and had more qualifications. A good boss should support any employee who is in trouble for making a call he/she agrees with.

        3. Lance

          Honestly, I don’t fully agree with this either. While it’s true that the LW shouldn’t just fully dismiss the accusations or anything of the sort — not especially during an ongoing investigation — if no boss ever defended their employees when they felt that defense was well-founded, where does that leave the employees? Or, more to the point, where does that leave their morale, knowing that at no point did their boss try to support them?

      2. The Cosmic Avenger

        This is exactly what I was thinking. At an interview, if you’re uncertain of the office culture it’s always best to be overdressed than underdressed, and it’s always better to be more formal than less formal. Your interviewer may give you clues as to whether you can tone it down a bit, but absent those clues it’s a red flag if the applicant is too informal or underdressed that when interacting with clients/the public, they may not maintain the company’s preferred image of professionalism.

      3. Here we go again

        I’m 28 and a minority in the US and I don’t know what any of these words mean. I also have a communications background and would not hire someone who used slang in their interview regardless of their race. The question people are missing is “if a white candidate used the same words, would Beth still refuse to hire him/her?”

        My guess is the answer is yes.

        1. Agnodike

          “If a white candidate used the same words, would Beth still refuse to hire him/her?” is an important question, and it gets to part of the issue at stake, but not all of it.

          Whether Beth would hire a white candidate with the same demeanour speaks to whether or not Beth is herself racist, i.e. prejudiced against individuals based on her perception of their race. Based on the OP’s account, it seems like he and other people of colour in the workplace interact with Beth without being the targets of racist remarks, so there’s a good case to be made that Beth, herself, is not racist. That’s important, and it’s good news!

          That’s not the end of the issue, though. Some of the discrimination that marginalized people face comes at an individual level: from individual bigots, directed at them as individuals who are part of a marginalized group. But a lot of it comes from systemic discrimination: setting norms for behaviour that are congruent with mainstream culture and less congruent with the norms of marginalized cultures, for example. Beth could herself not be at all racist – which would mean she would refuse to hire a white person behaving exactly as this candidate did – but the behavioural norms she applied to the candidate to determine his suitability might still be racist. That would mean that the candidate wasn’t hired for racist reasons, even though he was turned down by someone who wasn’t racist. So there are two different issues to address, and both are equally important.

            1. Agnodike

              Funnily enough, one of the ways we make cultural change (since a culture is composed of individuals, rather than being an entity that exists on its own) is by being aware of where we’re influenced by cultural norms and investigating and perhaps changing the decisions we make on a micro-level.

          1. Kate

            It sounds like at the end of your post you are saying we should ignore professional norms and standard business English. I am asking seriously and honestly, is that right or am I misunderstanding?

      4. Meg

        I understand what the words mean, and have even used them (and I’m a white middle-aged woman). I cannot think of a business context where it would appropriate to use these terms at my office-mostly because we don’t participate in protest activity as part of our work and I wouldn’t speak about my boyfriend/girlfriend during an interview. I suppose that something being on fleek could possibly be said during an interview, but I’m still having trouble with the context. Plus, Henry has now indicated that he called her “dog” when he arrived. Nope – that alone – he is done. You don’t get to call any woman, “dog” no matter what dialect you speak with. Never.

        1. Anon Today

          In a professional encounter – especially an interview, when you’re supposed to be on your best behavior – you don’t call *anyone* dog. I would have proceeded with the interview, but that greeting would have immediately dropped the candidate’s score by several points.

          1. Anon Today

            And by “several points,” I mean the candidate would have started off with negative points, and I would be evaluating whether s/he could overcome that. Regardless of race/culture/gender.

      5. JS

        Repeating a question I presented to another user but OP can you let us know the context he used the slang in? Was it to describe his professional achievements or was it during the personal/personality part of the interview?

      6. Vin Packer

        It sounds like she didn’t actually do anything wrong. The investigation will almost certainly bear that out, and knowing she has your support would probably be good for her.

        I’m glad your firm is taking the complaint seriously, though, even though it is causing some inconvenience for you and Beth–and hopefully next time she’ll be a little bit more careful when she gives her reasons for not hiring someone (all that stuff about the other candidate being more qualified, for example, instead of “well-spoken”).

      7. Name (Required)

        I just don’t understand why you didn’t hire this candidate. He could have referred to all of the women in office, as well as female clients, “bae,” then your company could be slapped with a sexual harassment suit.

  2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    OP#3, I don’t know if Beth behaved in a biased way during hiring—I trust your read on the situation, although I was a little skeeved by the justification being that someone wasn’t “well spoken” and used slang. Putting that aside, this stood out to me:

    My boss asked people who worked with Beth to anonymously report any incidents where they felt she had been racist to HR but no one has reported anything and several people (of all races) have emailed or expressed their support for Beth to me.

    Did your boss truly ask people to anonymously report Beth? Or was that a synopsis of a longer request? I’m not trying to nitpick—I’m asking because that seems like a really awful way to try to verify a complaint, and it makes me question how your company handles internal investigations into race discrimination. (Aside: I’ve worked at organizations that have approached allegations of race discrimination this way, and I found it to be an awful and ineffective way to gather information or reassure employees.)

    If your company is handling this issue in this way, then please do say something to Beth. It’s isolating and awful to be put in this position, particularly if a complaint lacks merit. Stick to the things you admire about Beth, let her know you’re there for her if she needs support, and make it easy for her to follow up with you if she needs a pep talk or sanity break as she goes through this.

    1. Hoorah

      I find this bizarre as well. If you invite people to make anonymous complaints, it makes it easy for grudge holders to make untrue, malicious accusations. You also want to give the employee a fair opportunity to respond to serious allegations made against them. Anonymous complaints don’t really allow for that – how are you supposed to prove something didn’t happen? Particularly if you and/or your employer cannot go back to the original complaint source to verify or collect further information?

      I guess “not being well spoken” such a broad description it could be anything. But if it meant that the applicant was incoherent or rambled without listening, I would have concerns about their ability to work effectively in a team. So this would be a good reason to decline a job application, particularly if the role required strong communication/customer service skills.

      1. Mookie

        Right. An investigation, to be successful, is not transparent until it’s over. Otherwise you run the risk of people sabotaging or comprising it from the outside.

    2. Katie the Fed

      I’ve been part of some investigations in the past – and usually an investigator (internal to my organization – probably trying to advise the lawyers on whether or not to settle or fight the claim) will ask people privately if they’ve experienced this kind of behavior from the person in question.

      The company/organization wants to assess its own liability and figure out how to handle it.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago

        Yeah, at OldJob I was pulled into meetings a few times and asked about my interactions with certain people. The questions were fairly generic, but it was obvious that there was an HR investigation happening.

    3. Student

      Gotta say, sounds racist to me from this tiny snippet in the OP. I kind of doubt Beth would’ve turned away a candidate who was white solely for using lots of technical jargon she didn’t understand.

      Is there more to this, like Beth is extremely picky about everyone’s language? Or maybe that the guy’s use of casual slang in an interview was an inappropriate fit for a formal work culture, like swearing at an interview for a bank clerk position is a bad idea? Or, hopefully, that some other candidate was just better qualified? Seems like that’s a pretty thin justification for not hiring someone, when normally there are plenty less sketchy reasons to not hire someone than solely the use of a few innocuous but heavily-racially-affiliated slang terms.

      For the guy to go to a lawyer, and the lawyer to take up the case, it seems like she must’ve gone to angry 1970s white southern schoolmarm mode on him after using some bit of innocuous slang. Are you sure you have the full story?

      I know you like this lady, but people can hold racist views and still be polite to their black boss and good employees. They can even hold racist views on some sections of the populace, like only on younger black guys or black guys who don’t have well-established careers, and be more reasonable with others, like their dear grandmother. Anecdote – I’ve talked with female admins who have very sexist, negative views of their male bosses, but those women love their sons and their husband and think the world of them. I’m pretty sure the bosses are generally happy with their work and have no idea that the admins ridicule them as living stereotypes of petulant, spoiled man-toddlers when they aren’t looking.

      1. Katie the Fed

        “For the guy to go to a lawyer, and the lawyer to take up the case, it seems like she must’ve gone to angry 1970s white southern schoolmarm mode on him after using some bit of innocuous slang. Are you sure you have the full story?”

        Ehhhh – you can find a lawyer to take anything – I don’t know that that’s proof on its own.

        But I agree – if a black friend told me a hiring official cited these things as the reason they didn’t get the job, I’d probably tell them to at least have a consultation with a lawyer.

      2. Henry

        Our industry has involvement in communications, so proper grammar, no slang, speaking clearly without mumbling and using someone’s name and or a formal title (as opposed to slang like dude, dog or bro) are paramount. A candidate who speaks like this in an interview as this candidate did would not work out in our industry and would cause an issue if they wrote and spoke as this candidate did in his interview.

        For the record, the candidate she ended up hiring was not white. I’ve never seen anything to indicate racism from Beth in her hiring decisions or otherwise or I would not be supporting her. I don’t know why the company is doing the investigation this way, it’s never happened to anyone I supervise before so this is all new to me.

        1. MWKate

          I do think this is an important piece of the story – that the work is involved in communications. It’s understandable that having a candidate who was excessively casual in a job interview (where you are presumably on your best behavior) would raise concerns that that would be the way they acted in the job if hired.

          I’m hoping the way Beth phrased this was just unfortunate as opposed to truly covering up an unconscious bias – but your company certainly has cause to investigate. I’m sure as her boss you have a different perspective of her than someone from HR who is protecting the company and making sure unfair hiring practices aren’t happening.

          For what it’s worth, if I were Beth, I would certainly appreciate knowing my boss had my back. If you truly think she was not applying any kind of racial bias to the decision I would say reaching out to her and letting her know that would be appreciated.

        2. Parenthetically

          What you said above about him saying “yo, dawg” to Beth completely changed my read on it. Yes, “he used slang and was inarticulate” aimed at a black man absolutely reads as racist to me. But “he was overly familiar and directed potentially derogatory language at the interviewer” doesn’t. This sounds like a guy who is either seriously tone-deaf about industry norms, or was trying to strike a friendly, humorous note and failed miserably.

          1. Leatherwings

            I agree with this, but I find the fact that the former description was used to originally justify why the dude wasn’t hired rather than the latter a real issue.

            Like, if he behaved overly familiar etc. THAT is what you should say instead of old racist standbys like “inarticulate” and “slang I didn’t understand”

            OP, the use of those last two terms is an issue even though it sounds like Beth’s decision was the correct one, and you should coach her on that.

            1. Parenthetically

              Do we know that those are the exact words that she used, though? Or is that just OP’s brief summary?

              1. Leatherwings

                It doesn’t matter. Using language that even implies “slang I didn’t understand” and “he was inarticulate” to describe a black candidates’ behavior is an issue. And OPs summary of it that way is an issue.

                None of this would’ve been an issue if OP/Beth/Both had said “The candidate was overly familiar and casual for the setting.” But that’s pretty clearly not what happened, and the fact that OP specifically called out black slang in the original post as a SPECIFIC EXAMPLE of slang Beth didn’t understand really doesn’t lend credence to the argument that this is all just a mix up about using the wrong language.

                And again, even if it was mixing up the exact language used to accidentally include dogwhistle terms, they ended up in this story somehow so it was either OP or Beth that did it and I find that pretty upsetting.

        3. maxcherry

          I don’t think the eventual hire being a “POC” or “not white” (which I only raise because OP has noted it a couple of times) is really relevant. Racism and anti-blackness are interwoven but not identical issues, and proximity to whiteness is a real phenomenon that underscores the interactions and perceptions of many white people with those who are brown, light-skinned, or mixed-race. We know the litigant is a black man, and others have already discussed the disproportionate impact of the coded language used here on black men specifically. But it isn’t as though a different, more qualified black man was hired in the role (at least, we haven’t been told that). An Asian man or Latina woman being hired eventually doesn’t exactly suffice to me as “proof” of anti-bias in Beth or the company.

      3. Temperance

        Speaking as a lawyer, I know many people personally who will take any case that comes their way. So don’t read into that.

        I work at a firm with a diversity commitment, and we wouldn’t hire someone who came to an interview and acted informally or dropped slang. It’s unprofessional for what we do.

      4. Mazzy

        Sorry but using the word woke is not anything like technical jargon. Woke tens only to be used on activist or sjw type sites in fact even BuzzFeed had videos about how people need to stop using the word! You definitely need to be aware of what type of loaded language you’re using in a job interview sorry

      5. Mazzy

        Sorry not sure if I said this already but I’m having phone issues….. but technical jargon and using the word awoke in a job interview I have no comparison, sorry. Work has very deep connotations with activism and usually one does not want to mention activism or politics in a job interview. I mean even the website buzzfeed is telling people to stop using the word!

        1. Temperance

          I’m more put out that he used the word “bae” in a job interview. I just … can’t even imagine where that would fit.

            1. Temperance

              Even then! That’s so strange and inappropriate. I’m socially awkward and make weird jokes and comments, but even I wouldn’t say that.

              1. Purest Green

                Oh, I wasn’t suggesting it would be appropriate! Merely speculating on how he might have fit it in.

            2. Sazz

              I was thinking, “I moved to this area because my bae started school here.” But to me, this reads the same as someone saying, “I moved to this area because my shmoopie started school here.” Why would you not just say wife/husband/spouse/significant other/boyfriend/girlfriend?

              1. Elizabeth H.

                Yeah, I was mildly puzzled at first but thinking about that, any number of things like if you are making small talk about commute etc., “I usually have the car because bae can take the train to work” etc.
                If it were in a context like that (polite small talk) I would really take issue with why that specific use of language would indicate not well spoken. Other examples of treating the interviewer too casually could reflect on professionalism but not really something like that.

                1. Sazz

                  It feels like a pet name to me “I usually have the car because wifey/hubby can take the train to work” would also feel really weird and put me off.

          1. Serin

            That’s what I was thinking! Those are words on the subject of romance, fashion, and politics; even if I weren’t too old and stodgy to use them, in a job interview I just can’t imagine how they would come up.

          2. Mira

            Same here, Temperance. I write personal experience and op-ed articles for a company that revolves around sex and relationships and Tinder dating trends, so you might imagine the interview before I was hired was completely casual. Nope. One of the most professional interviews I’ve given, despite this being one place where words like “fleek” and “bae” might be used liberally to pepper my speech. But you just do not use slang in an interview – of any kind, from any culture – I thought that was an unspoken norm that comes with being professional!

        2. Sans

          I agree … there is no comparison between slang words such as fleek or bae or woke (which, by the way, I’ve seen used on the Internet by people of every color) and technical jargon. Apples and oranges.

          1. Mazzy

            People of every race using it has nothing to do with it. It isn’t a radicalized word. It’s connotation is that you are involved in activism. Usually irrelevant at work and definitely in an interview

            1. Creag an Tuire

              TBF, OP has referenced “talking to elected officials” more than once, so this may be a political/activist organization, in which case talking about your activism is totally appropriate.

          2. N.J.

            These terms originated within African American Vernacular English. While, as professional you wouldn’t catch me dead using any slang at work, you need to be fully aware of the context here. Assuming that this is widespread slang that originated fully formed out of American culture is inaccurate. It ignores the cultural appropriation of “black” terminology and the complicated and complex system of racism and stereotyping tied in with the average American understanding of “black” culture. I say this as a woman who is half-black with my own identity issues. I also say this as someone who has enough of a self-preservation instinct to not be dumb enough to speak in slang in a professional setting, just as I would dress appropriately etc. We as a society always need to be aware of the complex set of associations and stereotypes we use as people to sort and categorize those around us, often to the detriment of others and often not even done consciously.

      6. LCL

        There are people who are professional lawsuit filers. Having an interview and being as informal as possible, then filing a lawsuit because they weren’t considered, is one of their tactics. If HR is doing their job completely they should be checking to see if the complainant is a professional victim.

  3. Stellaaaaa

    OP1: You’re a lot more patient than I would have been in this situation. IMO as long as you’re coordinating emails and phone numbers on behalf of your former employer, you’re sort of still working for them. In any case, you shouldn’t be fielding these calls and acting as a go-between for a business that isn’t paying you. I’d probably just tell the clients that you no longer work for the company and cannot act on their behalf, so they (the clients) need to call the company’s main number and work things out from there. The company has a very lazy (not malicious, just lazy) system in place wherein they seemingly have employees use their personal numbers and then expect them to positively interact with clients after moving on to new jobs. I’m of the thinking that the company needs to be forced to deal with this. I realize that you probably feel pressured to keep doing this for the sake of getting a good reference but it’s so weird to me that they’re letting client calls fall through the cracks this way. Surely there are other former employees who didn’t bother sitting down in their free time to email their old employers the correct and detailed information from these phone calls. This company didn’t think you meshed well enough with their objective to keep you on the payroll, but they sure don’t mind you acting as an unpaid part-time liaison.

    1. nonegiven

      Maybe she should be billing the employer for her time, as a consultant, either at an increased hourly rate or per client call.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        People always suggest this in situations like this, but in reality it would make the OP look pretty out of touch to suggest that when there’s a much easier solution (the one I suggested in the post or simply telling callers she no longer works there and they should contact the company directly).

      2. Stellaaaaa

        That wouldn’t go over very well, especially since a good reference is still hanging in the balance. It makes more sense to call the company and say, “I can’t keep taking these calls and reporting to you as if I still work there. Can you reach out to your clients and inform them that I’m no longer their contact? I don’t have the time to relay messages to you in a timely fashion.” It’s a nice way of saying, “I’m not going to make it a priority to cover your @ss for you anymore, and also, why on earth do you not already have an ‘unloading’ process for how to deal with clients after employees leave?”

        1. LW 1

          I spent days before I left uploading all the new information about clients (accurate numbers, where we were in the discussion, etc.) with the understanding that we were cutting ties, but I think with how many people they expected me to contact, some are just slipping through the cracks.

          1. Here we go again

            If you did all of this, it is 100% on your old employer. They should’ve followed up with each of these clients/prospects. It would have been a good customers service/ or sales opportunity to reach out and say “LW 1, no longer works here, so we just wanted to check in.”

            1. Amy

              When someone on my team leaves we reach out to all their customers and let them know who is handling their account in the interim (we have a very long hiring process) and then have the new person reach out when they’re ready to take over the accounts.

          2. Ama

            That’s possible, but it might also be on the client — when I took over my current position I discovered most of the clients we worked with had put my predecessor’s direct contact info in their files (not home phone, but her direct email and extension instead of our general department email/phone), and it took almost two years before I finally managed to get most of them changed over. If a client isn’t diligent about keeping a central contact list updated it is really easy for the last person you worked with directly to note the change but forget to tell anyone else at the company and then someone else tries to use the list which still has the old info.

            Since this involves your home phone it’s more urgent that you get the info corrected and I do agree with the other commenters that you should have a more streamlined way of redirecting — do they have a main phone number you can give the clients? You should definitely also ask your old bosses to do a bit more proactive outreach on their side.

            1. LW 1

              I reached out to my boss and he said that there’s not much else they can do. They’re still attempting to fill my old position, so nobody’s been able to reach out to the clients because they’re really swamped. He told me I can just ignore the calls for now and they’ll get to the companies when they can. I’ll probably just give anyone else who calls (and I hope that 4 months later, it’ll finally stop) the main office number.

    2. LW 1

      Considering how important they told me it was that they expand the area in this state, it is kind of weird that they’re not on top of every call in this area.

      (Actually, you’re not too far off with the part time liaison. They’ve reached out to me to ask me to do an hour of work to clean up a mess with an employee that cropped up. I said no because the work was literally only for a single hour on one day – for minimum wage – and I didn’t want to involve myself with the employee drama.)

      You’re right that I’ve been worried about a reference. (I think I might have torched that though; see above situation.) I thought that I was maintaining that bridge because I was afraid of burning it, but I’m seeing now that I’m letting them walk on me.

      1. Persephone Mulberry

        Not being available on a specific day ago do a hour of work (at minimum wage!!!) is, if your former company is at all reasonable, not going to have any effect on your reference from them. It’s certainly not bridge-burning level!

        1. LW 1

          I just get so stressed about it, and then I hear someone else word it the way you did and I begin to wonder why I’m so worried! It sounds absolutely ridiculous hearing it from someone else, haha. Thanks for helping me see it clearly!

          1. The Cosmic Avenger

            Another important thing to remember is that there is often no pleasing unreasonable people. This is usually the deeper issue when we work for/with unreasonable people, because we’re always expecting them to be satisfied if not pleased when we do what they ask, but they usually are not. That’s why it’s important to be able to look at it objectively and judge whether a request is reasonable or not — we can’t depend on their reaction as a guide. So remembering that people like that will usually be displeased with your efforts no matter what can sometimes help you steel yourself to say “no” to an unreasonable request.

            Also, “No.” is a full sentence.

            1. LW 1

              Ooooh, I love that. “No.” is a full sentence – I haven’t heard that before! I will remember that forever. Thank you!

              1. The Cosmic Avenger

                And here I was editing that down, almost out, because I thought maybe I’m overusing it in the comments! :)

                Yes, sometimes you’ll feel the need to say “No, thank you” or “No, I’m sorry, I can’t”, but think about dealing with the pushiest of telemarketers or telephone scammers — it doesn’t matter much what you say, any reason you give will be argued away or even used against you. You don’t always owe people an explanation for turning them down.

                In those situations we often find ourselves wanting to Justify, Argue, Defend, or Explain (JADE) when challenged, but that’s counterproductive, because those are all traction for someone who is pushy and/or selfish to try to convince you to change your mind. And they may get more and more vehement the more you talk back, in the hope that their intensity will influence you to back down, so a calm, quick answer gives them less emotional traction, too.

                This is why it is important to remember that “no” is a complete sentence. :)

  4. Middleman

    #4 – In an ideal world I would agree with Alison’s advice, but in reality it can be really difficult to transfer internships that are part of post-secondary programs partway through , and I’ve seen people get screwed over by the organizations they were interning with over raising less of a stink. It’s not fair, but it’s reality.

    Alison isn’t wrong, but there’s no guarantee that what she’s suggested is likely to have a positive impact, and there are not insignificant odds they could have a negative one.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      What are the factors that you think change the odds of OP suffering long-term negative consequences by raising her concerns? I agree that leaving partway can be fraught, but I’m trying to understand which part sof the process you think could blowback.

      1. Middleman

        I have a friend who politely raised concerns about the nature of his internship being misrepresented to him (I know this person well and am confident they did not do this in an unprofessional or inappropriate way), and the staff members supervising him wrote a negative evaluation of him for the school and refused to provide a reference for him.

        Honestly these school placement internships are often exploitative because the organizations know they have a lot of leverage over the students. I have no good advice to offer for how to mitigate or avoid this without simply playing ball. But I do think that Alison’s response which didn’t acknowledge the potential for this go south was optimistic.

        1. BuildMeUp

          Do you think it would help for the OP to talk to someone at their school before they have the conversation with the company?

          1. Middleman

            That’s a good idea, I would definitely approach the school first. I had my own issues with the internship I got in college and raised these with the coordinator at my school. Although nothing changed, my concerns were at least noted and the coordinator was sympathetic. I ended up getting references from one good employee at the organization I was interning at as well as the school coordinator.

          2. FirstTimeCommenter

            I would also have suggested contacting the school. I don’t have experience about the systems in the US, but in my country when there is a mandatory internship as a part of a study program, there are usually some kind of requirements about what the student is supposed to do there. It has to be something that is relevant for the study area to be accepted for the study credits. Not just some random work. In some cases the requirements can be very detailed, I have even had to write to my teacher every day what I’ve been doing and learning at the internship! In another case it was sufficient to write a report about the internship afterwards, but always there has been some kind of control about what the intern is actually doing.

            If I was OP, my main concern would be that after doing telemarketing for 4 months, my school would say that this doesn’t count as the mandatory internship because the work isn’t related to the study field. For this reason I would absolutely contact the school and ask what is required for the internship to be accepted. If the school would have a problem with the work description, I would then go to the internship boss and say something like, “my school won’t accept this internship period for my study requirements if I only do retail work and telemarketing. This is not something I can affect. If this was a normal job I wouldn’t complain, but this job isn’t just between you and me, my school is also involved and they have a say in what I can do. If things stay the same for all the 4 months, I will have to do another 4 month internship somewhere else in order to graduate.”

          1. Middleman

            It’s not always possible to switch and get the credits and graduate in time. Or it may be possible but require a massive amount of effort for another internship that might end up being just as bad.

      2. EngineeringIntern

        An internship goes both ways. The intern med to get experience in the workplace, and the company needs to get benefit as well. It’s not unreasonable, from the perspective of the business owner, to try and employ the intern’s skills. This is good business.

        As someone who completed 6 different 4-month internships as part of my university program, I was faced with both good placements and ‘bad’, where I didn’t get the experience I was going for. In those cases, I worked with the employer to take on the work they needed/wanted me to do, and the compromise was that in the remaining time I built relationships with the people with the experience I hoped to get. They ended up teaching me a lot informally. I also paid close attention to what was going on around me, while they did their jobs. I learned a lot.

        I also mentioned to the school that the placement was inaccurately advertised, so that nobody else would get stuck.

    2. Artemesia

      If the OP things this may be so, then she needs to get her campus advisor on it asap. The advisor can make clear that it is an academic internship and credit rests on attaining the goals laid out in the contract or agreement. This is exploitation of the intern; sometimes it is easier to have a third party insist rather than the intern having to fight the complete battle.

      I liked Alison’s words here — I think few intern supervisors would be deeply offended by it.

    3. Trout 'Waver

      I agree with Middleman. It’s the end of February and OP#4 is a senior. Graduation is 2 months away. Even if the OP managed to find a new internship, they’d have to put in 20 hours/week to get it done in time while also studying for finals and going to class full time. Doable, but it would suck.

      I think there are no good options here. Just suck it up and grind it out to graduate. This is definitely a setback, but not an insurmountable one. Some volunteer work or an entry-level job doing just about anything would easily trump a school-mandated 120 hour unpaid internship.

  5. Feathers McGraw

    #2 Either she’s responsible for it or she’s not. Right now you’re doing the work but she’s trying to backseat drive.

    Can you ask Greg not to answer her questions but to say “Jane is responsible for this” on repeat, and tell her “I am responsible for this” on repeat. I also wonder if it’s a control issue or more that she thinks the buck stops with her. But either way, how frustrating.

    As to pulling up a chair when you’re reading your emails, shut the window down every time.

    #4 That’s a really lousy way to treat a psychology student who clearly needs relevant experience as future employers are going to look closely at what you did on placements and practicums. There’s a line between doing what it takes and exploitation. The fact it’s a non-profit doesn’t mean you have to suck it up. If there’s an internship coordinator at this school, start with them.

    #5 You’re overthinking it. It would just sound a bit sinister if people kept referring to the uncertainty of it all. Good luck with the job search!

    1. Blueismyfavorite

      Yes, I agree she’s trying to back seat drive. She wants to retain control without actually being in control and if I were the LW I’d be so offended by her shouting, “It’s OK,” to the coworker like they were waiting on her approval.

      Does the boss know the LW is doing the task? It sounds like the coworker thinks she needs to know what’s going on with the task so she can discuss it with the boss. But if LW is doing the task then buttinsky coworker needs to be completely out of the loop. LW should shut her down or cease doing the task. She should tell the coworker, “I agreed to take care of this because you weren’t able to but I don’t have time to do the work AND loop you in about it. If you’d like to take over you can but otherwise Greg and I will handle this on our own.”

  6. Feathers McGraw

    #3 I have to say I think it sounds like this investigation is being handled pretty badly if they’ve told everyone about it and in particular who it is. What they should have done is suspend her without telling people why she’s off and, separately, encourage people to report any discrimination at work by, say, reminding them of the process in an HR update. Even if Beth survives this, her reputation may not. (I won’t get into the discussion of how she possibly was in fact racist as that’s covered upthread, but none of the information you give negates the possibility that she has discriminated in this case.)

    They should also be looking at exactly how the hiring decisions were made. How many people were interviewed, and on what was the hiring decision based exactly – did she hire the person who best fit the job spec? If not, why, and how has she documented her decision? Who else made the decision? Etc. But even if all that’s in place, even if this seems like opportunism, I still think some important points are being made upthread.

    1. Henry

      6 people were interviewed. The successful candidate (for the record not white) met more of the specs and qualifications in the job posting than any other candidate. That’s what the decision is based on. Beth interviewed the candidates and had the ultimate say because the position is on her team. HR screens the initial applications and is involved every step of the way. After the interviews the hiring manager has to explain in detail why they are choosing one candidate over the others.

      I can’t speak to anything regarding how the investigation is being done because this is all new to me and I’ve never had an employee have to go through one before.

      1. Rat in the Sugar

        Henry, would you mind adding OP or LW by your username so it’s easier for us to find you in the comments? Otherwise your remarks get lost in the shuffle and it’s very valuable to hear from you.

        1. Myrin

          I was going to suggest the same thing! If I weren’t a religious reader of this site’s comments, I might totally miss Henry’s comments and later comment something that’s already been cleared up by his input.

      2. Blue

        I totally get that you don’t think she’s racist. And maybe she isn’t. But I think there’s the possibility that she made the right hiring choice AND her opinion of this guy was influenced by racism.

        1. Leatherwings

          Yes. And even if her opinion wasn’t influenced by racism, the language used to describe her opinion of this guy is steeped in it.

        2. Chameleon

          Yes, I think what a lot of people don’t get (and why discussions of racism tend to get bogged down in defensiveness) is that it is totally possible to *DO* racist things without *BEING* racist.

  7. Em too

    #3 you could email HR to say you have never encountered racism from her? I echo others re ‘well spoken’ though.

  8. LW 1

    Thank you for the advice! I’m planning to get in touch with my former manager as well as double-check my outgoing voicemail. (Would it look bad to a prospective employer if my outgoing message referred to an old job? I’m so unsure of what the etiquette is there. Ideally they’ll never hear it, but things happen.)

    As some have guessed, I have nerves about a good reference being yanked if I refuse to help. I suppose my hint that I’m working too hard should be that my former manager no longer replies to messages I send telling him that a client has been in touch. :/ Oh, well. I’m definitely going to take these steps because frankly, I’m a bit tired of helping the company.

    I actually was a work-from-home employee, which is why I used my personal number. They offered me a company phone, which I should have taken at the time, but 20/20 hindsight (there was some orange flag reason I didn’t take it, but cannot recall right now). This was my first big job out of college and I’ve tried to learn more since then.

    1. Hoorah

      If this leads to a negative work reference, your ex bosses are jerks.

      I wouldn’t worry too much about the reference issue if I were you. Employers will generally provide positive references for ex staff. If the ex staff was *really* awful they are more likely to decline being a referee than to provide an outright negative reference.

      If your application and interview are all great and you happen to have a questionable work reference, a reasonable hiring manager wouldn’t automatically toss you in the no pile. Hiring managers collect a lot of data and a reference check is one piece of information.

      So don’t feel obliged to continue your messenger services to the company.

      1. LW 1

        That’s actually really comforting to know. Thank you! As I’ve said elsewhere, this was my first big job out of college and I’m still not sure what the norms are, especially now that I’ve been unemployed since November and I’m starting to get a little panicky about bills :/

        1. Hoorah

          That’s totally common (to not be completely sure of work norms) when you’re inexperienced.

          Job searching for 3 months or longer is pretty common, especially as a graduate with limited work experience. No advice here, except to say I know it really sucks – all the uncertainty and stress. But if you’re putting in this much effort to be helpful towards an ex employer, it sounds like you’re the kind of person who goes above and beyond the essential requirements of any job. So good luck to you and I hope you find something great.

        2. Natalie

          My apologies if this is super obvious, but are you collecting unemployment? You most likely qualify since you were let go of your job for being a poor fit, rather than for rules violations or similar. It’s a common misconception that you can’t get get unemployment unless you were laid off.

    2. Antilles

      Would it look bad to a prospective employer if my outgoing message referred to an old job? I’m so unsure of what the etiquette is there.
      I’d change it, but it isn’t a big deal. Most people just sort of mentally gloss over phone voicemails unless it’s unbearably long (I just wanted to leave a message, not hear your life story!) or there’s something notably unprofessional about it (a “hello? haha, just screwing with you, leave a message” is no longer funny if you’re over 19). Just change it to something short and professional like “you have reached the phone of LW Lastname, I’m sorry I missed you, please leave your name and number and I will gladly call you back” or something similarly generic, then don’t worry about it.

      They offered me a company phone, which I should have taken at the time, but 20/20 hindsight (there was some orange flag reason I didn’t take it, but cannot recall right now).
      If you end up working from an office, another way to handle this is to simply permanently set your company phone to forward to your personal cell (or ‘simultaneous ring’ if that’s an option). Then you give our the company phone number, not your personal cell.
      This has the added benefit that if you go on vacation, you can just unlink the phones, change your company phone’s voice mail (I am out of office starting on February 20th and will return on February 27th; if you need a reply before then, please call my colleague John Doe at 555-555-5555), and use your personal cell on your vacation without hassle.

      1. EW

        This doesn’t work if you need to make a lot of calls to people. I was not given permission to set this up one time, so I had to carry around two phones. Their reasoning was it would confuse someone if I called back from a different number. Not that I agree with that reasoning, but I needed their approval for the call forwarding set up.

        1. Judy

          Our CISCO system has an app for smartphones, so you can make calls from the ip phone number on your smartphone. (And have a contacts list especially for work) You also can start a call on your smartphone, and then when you walk into your office, you can pick it up on your ip phone. Or start a call on your ip phone and continue it on your smartphone seamlessly.

      2. Chameleon

        You can also get a Google Voice number, which you can get to ring your phone. I do that so I can give my students a phone number without risking needing to change my actual number if something goes south–it’s super easy, free, and Google transcribes voice mails into emails so you can read them if you want to.

  9. MommyMD

    I feel so bad for Beth to be unfairly maligned like that to the point of suspension with an investigation. Over a single ill-spoken potential employee. Even when reinstated this is going to stay with her. She probably never wants to conduct another interview again. How traumatizing. You are a good colleague.

    1. Jen

      Another perspective is that accidental racism has a negative impact on people (ie all the POC that this manager has interviewed or worked with) and they also have to live with that for thier careers. I understand that not everyone understands that there are different cultures and ways of speaking, but as a manager it behooves people to educate themselves, or be receptive to feedback from knowledgeable people, to prevent them acting as racist because the actions have impact even if it wasn’t intentional. The company is doing the right thing, and perhaps the colleagues would also benefit from some cultural competence training as well as the hiring managers.

      1. Jen

        Also, it’s important to remember how difficult it is for marginalized people to speak up and get a positive response, so odds are extremely good that this is not actually an isolated incident

      2. Hoorah

        I’m a minority. I know very well racism occurs far too frequently. But declining an applicant for inadequate communication skills is not racism. It’s not even unintentional racism. The role required a certain level of proficiency in communication and this man did not meet that specific criterion. From the letter it sounds like use of slang words was just one of the examples of inadequate communication skills. (Again, this is not racism. If the job involved regular customer service, it would reflect poorly on the company to hire someone who uses slang words that most people do not understand.)

        Maybe he was declined for jobs elsewhere due to racism. But to punish Beth for applying a reasonable and justifiable selection standard is not going to do anything to fight racism everywhere else.

        1. seejay

          I definitely do agree with you on this and if he doesn’t communicate well, slang or not, then it’s a good reason to turn him down, especially if the role requires good communication skills, and if he’s trying to cite racism as the reason for it, it’s muddying the waters and creating more problems than it should be.

          I think some people have picked up though that there may have been some other things that came through aside from the communication issues? At least that’s the concern I picked up in the comments, and it’s possible that he also picked up something else that led him to pursue this recourse. I genuinely hope that’s not the case for either… well… someone was wrong somewhere, either he’s falsifying the offense or Beth did let bias sway her decision, hence the reason for the investigation. :/ Why do people in general just have to suck?

        2. Katie the Fed

          “The role required a certain level of proficiency in communication and this man did not meet that specific criterion. ”

          That’s not in the letter above though. We don’t know if this was an essential aspect of the job.

          1. Hoorah

            He was rejected specifically because of his lack of communication skills; so it’s safe to presume this was a necessary skill.

            Communication skills are important to nearly every job, even if you’re not in a customer facing role. If someone is unable to articulate their thoughts clearly or rambles on without listening, it would be difficult to work with them in any team capacity. You would never be able to promote such a person to a manager role.

            1. Katie the Fed

              No, it’s not safe to presume it. Legal cases can hinge on matters like this, and the letter doesn’t clarify either way.

              1. Katie the Fed

                Regardless, This idea that because the manager decided he was a bad communicator, it must mean that communication skills were critical – is questionable logic. That’s why hiring managers are supposed to define what the required skills are ahead of time – so they’re not moving the bar for certain candidates.

                1. Mazzy

                  Sorry your getting to academic and hypothetical here. Soft skills can be so bad in an interview that you can’t get the person to speak, even, or they say completely irrelevant things, or misuse words. Bad communication is definitely a real thing and since many applicants are going to be great speakers….

                2. Kate

                  Communication skills are critical in every job. Every position requires communicating with your coworkers and with customers or clients or students. If you can’t do that professionally and clearly, you are not hireable.

              2. Myrin

                @Katie, I agree in general (that just because a hiring manager said candidate was bad at X doesn’t mean X is absolutely vital for the position) but OP has commented above (under the name “Henry”) saying that communication skills are indeed critical for this particular role/in this industry.

                1. Katie the Fed

                  Yeah, I see that. It does change my perspective on the matter. Still, I hope for Beth’s sake she didn’t frame the rejection in the same way as described above.

          2. Rat in the Sugar

            OP has left comments under the name Henry stating that it is an important aspect of the job.

        3. Katie the Fed

          (sorry, meant to include this in the same comment)

          “From the letter it sounds like use of slang words was just one of the examples of inadequate communication skills. ”

          That’s also not in the letter. The LW just cites one reason for the non-selection, and its this.

          1. Myrin

            It’s not, though. OP says “Beth says she decided not to hire him because he was not well spoken and used slang and words in the interview that she didn’t understand”.

            I won’t say any more on that matter because it feels nit-picky with regards to OP’s word choice but I’d absolutely understand that to mean something like “He couldn’t articulate himself very well: he mumbled incessantly and answered straightforward questions in a very roundabout and rambling manner. Additionally, he used a lot of slang words I’m not familiar with, which made it overall hard for me to understand him”.

        4. hbc

          “Slang words that most people don’t understand”–there’s the rub, though.

          1) Do most people really not understand those words, especially in context? Or is it that most people in a position to hire (read: older white people with middle class or higher backgrounds) don’t understand them? For what it’s worth, I’m about as whitebread as they come, and I know all those terms.

          2) Would Beth decline to hire someone who peppers their speech with obscure golf analogies or high-falutin words that most people don’t know (or “there’s the rub”)? Most people probably don’t understand, but we accept that as okay because rich white dialect is unfairly considered a step up while black dialect is considered a step down, regardless of actual comprehension levels.

          3) Someone in hiring absolutely has to know when they’re stumbling into a rejection reason that looks a lot like bias. If you’re declining a woman because you suspect she’s not going to work long enough hours due to family obligations, you darn well better document the heck out of her saying, “I need half days every Thursday to go to my daughter’s soccer games” and other specifics. If you have a problem with a black man not being well-spoken, you better include specifics like “Incomplete sentences” and avoid dogwhistle terms.

          1. Sazz

            I know what all the words mean too, but I don’t think they’re appropriate in an interview. How would fleek or bae even come up? Referring to something as “fleek” would be the same to me as referring to something as “bitchin'” or “rad”. All these feel completely out of place in an interview.

            1. A Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks

              +1. when I read #3, I thought the same thing–How would words like “fleek” and “bae” even come up in an interview??? Incidentally, I’m a minority and based on the letter, I don’t see racism as a factor in this. Interview 101 tells you that you should not use slang when answering interview questions–especially when a large part of the job is good communication skills (I’m guessing this was in the job description). Also, if he got an interview, he more than likely had other skills that made him a good candidate.

              1. Triceratops

                “Part of my job as communications director was to make sure all of our printed materials were high-quality. For direct mail especially, I found that having everything down the typesetting really on fleek [on point, what have you] was key to getting effective results.”

            2. Former Retail Manager

              100% agreed. I am a white lady in my mid-30’s living in the South and my daughter is 17. Both she and I know what all of these words mean (and she uses them regularly with friends), BUT an interview is NOT the place for any of them. She has recently began applying for her first job and has had only 1 interview thus ar. I cannot tell you the number of conversations we’ve had about appropriate interview conversation covering everything from slang terms to “like” “you know” “umm” and trying to use bigger words than are necessary. All of these things come across negatively to an interviewer. I also grew up with the same folksy sayings as another commenter and those would also be a “no-go” for me if I were interviewing someone. I don’t see it as a race issue. I see it as a professionalism/familiarity with interview norms issue.

            3. hbc

              See, I’m fine with that. “Terms that are inappropriate for an interview” is a great reason to downgrade or eliminate someone, without getting into whether Beth is personally familiar with the terms because of her background.

          2. Sazz

            I’d question the judgment of someone using obscure golf terms or five dollar words “just because” in an interview. I would not just let it slide. I communicate differently at work and with clients than I do in my own time, and I’d expect others too as well. I grew up with a lot of folksy sayings, but if someone came in to an interview telling me they’d been doing this sort of work since they “was knee-high to a grasshopper” or commented that someone was “too big for their britches”, they would not be at the top of the hire pile.

          3. Chocolate lover

            I did not know what most of those words meant. And given that the one I did recognize could either mean “before anyone else” or the Danish word for poop, I’d still be puzzled at any usage in an interview.

          4. Henry

            Just to clarify, Beth is not ‘old’, unless 29 is old (in which case I am way over the hill myself) and she did not grow up in an upper class high-flautin background as you say. She grew up in a rural area and has shared with me that her family relied on social assistance for most of her life. She would understand golf terms and high-flautin words as little as she did the slang I mentioned in my interview.

            For the record, the successful candidate who got hired is not white and other white candidates were also passed over for the role.

            1. Triceratops

              That the hired candidate was not white is important to note, but it’s also worth mentioning that racism is not “treatment of white people vs everyone else.” Anti-blackness can be much more pervasive and insidious than racism against other groups, especially in the US.

              1. maxcherry

                Thank you. I’ve already said this above, but I’ll say it again because I’m surprised more people haven’t noted it considering the OP’s repeated use of the phrase. The eventual hire being not white doesn’t “prove” anything about Beth or the company. It’s just another data point. All people of color don’t have the same experiences with whiteness, mainstream culture, society at large, etc.

            2. Trillian

              And that suggests to me that Beth may be at a disadvantage in that she did not grow up a native speaker of ‘middle class’. Her choice of words is coming across as suggesting an attitude that she may not have.

        5. Henry

          Our industry involves communications, press releases, press conferences and speaking to reporters, elected officials and others. Being well spoken is a huge criteria, or I would not have mentioned it in my letter.

          1. Keep Forgetting My Name

            Henry, I see a lot of people piling on in this thread, and just wanted to say that I appreciate how you want to do the right thing and stand up for Beth. Thank you for being a good manager!

    2. seejay

      Given the imbalance in society between whites and PoC/minorities these days, I’d be far less worried/upset about Beth’s potential unfair malignment and the quite probable microagression, and likely subconscious/unaware, that was directed towards the potential employee. This isn’t to say that Beth is racist, but her actions may have been insensitive and clueless and to someone who is constantly on the receiving end of what seems like small innocuous actions, they build up over time to the point of being exhausting, tiring and frustrating. She might be unfairly maligned, but he, on the other hand, is facing a constant uphill battle in a society that doesn’t treat him fairly every day.

      1. Emi.

        But it’s also unfair for Beth to be punished for making him face a constant uphill battle in a society of which she is only one member.

        1. maxcherry

          She’s not being punished. She’s being investigated after a former applicant reasonably interpreted her (unfortunately chosen, but chosen nonetheless) coded language for casual racism. If POC generally, and black Americans specifically, don’t take action when they believe they’ve been unfairly attacked or disregarded on the basis of an underlying culture of anti-blackness and racism, we’ll never be able to keep this corrosive, systemic bias in the limelight where it belongs. Because that’s the only place it can be seen, understood, and destroyed.

          1. Temperance

            Actually no, this is not what happened at all. This is a misstatement of the facts. He was denied the job with a form letter denying him this job.

            This is not an example of systemic bias and racism. This sounds like someone moneygrubbing. I hate racism and I support calling out bias where it exists, but this is not that. This was someone acting inappropriately in a job interview and not meeting the qualifications for the job, namely conducting yourself professionally and communicating at a high level.

            Also, Beth losing pay is unquestionably discipline.

    3. Katie the Fed

      Eh. I feel bad for Beth because that’s a stressful situation for anyone. BUT – anyone who does much hiring should probably be on the lookout for unintentional biases of the kind that might make you not hire someone because they talk in a black dialect.

      1. Vin Packer

        Yeah this is way much. Sounds like Beth made the right choice, but its not the tragedy of the century that one white lady got investigated to make sure she wasn’t being racist. She’s probably not going to be fired or anything.

    4. Cambridge Comma

      I don’t think it’s clear yet that she has been unfairly maligned. That is what the investigation is for.

    5. N.J.

      I have noticed a tendency in your lady several post comments to make strongly pronounced opinions with the air that they are definitive and unquestionable or universal. My apologies if I am mischaracterizing. Would you be willing to post more about the life experiences, facts or thought process that bring you to your conclusions? As this is a discussion community that benefits from differing opinions it would be more helpful and perhaps even educational for everyone involved. Why do you think she was unfairly treated? Would you have recommended a different outcome than suspension and investigation? If so, what and why? Do you have any particular personal experiences or anecdotes that have formed your opinion strongly enough to use strong language such as “traumatizing” and “unfairly maligned”?

  10. Hoorah

    LW1 is much more patient than I would be in this situation. If I received a few calls from clients I wouldn’t mind spending some time directing them to the right person. But it sounds like this is a regular, ongoing task.

    Alison’s suggestion seems to be the most practical solution. If that didn’t work, it would be totally reasonable for LW1 to politely end the conversation with “Oh I’m sorry I don’t work here any more, you got through to my personal number.” In the era of Google anyone can look up the company’s main phone number. An ex-employee (who was let go!) shouldn’t be responsible for acting as an on call secretary.

    1. LW 1

      Honestly, until reading Alison’s reply and the comments? It just seemed like the polite/normal thing to do. Now I feel kind of silly.

      1. Hoorah

        Don’t feel silly for being a patient and considerate person :) I admire you for going out of your way to show courtesy to all these people who called you, when you didn’t have to.

      2. Cambridge Comma

        I don’t think it’s silly at all; it sounds like you gave good service to your customers, and that’s not a habit that you lose straight away.

        1. Czhorat

          It also keeps bridges from being burned. I’d be more likely to simply redirect callers to the company switchboard, but I completely understand the reasons to take an extra step.

          On using ones own phone, I’ve seen the joke that “BYOD” isn’t “Bring your own device”, but “Buy your own device”. It’s been a long time since I had a company-supplied phone. My personal mobile number is on my email signature and busness cards. Has been for a long time now.

      3. Temperance

        Don’t feel silly! Just stop wasting your time. My bet is that clients call you because you answer and are helpful.

  11. Katie the Fed

    OP #3 – You might tell Beth that you’re willing to speak positively about her in any legal processes.

    However, I do want to point out that “Beth says she decided not to hire him because he was not well spoken and used slang and words in the interview that she didn’t understand (such as fleek, bae, and woke)” does honestly sound like it could be a valid concern for racial discrimination. She essentially cited as a reason that he used a slang/dialect common to one race, and that’s….probably not great. In fact, if you look up the phrase “well spoken” you’ll find that it’s often used specifically in the context of describing black people (usually as a kind of a surprised “wow, you’re so well-spoken!”). The people doing it usually don’t mean any harm whatsoever, but that’s the problem with institutionalized racism – sometimes you can say/do really problematic things without even know why they’re problematic.

    Now, I’m not saying Beth is a racist. But as someone who also does hiring, this is one of the things I have to be really, really careful about when doing hiring. We need to make sure we’re not writing people off because they speak in a way that’s common for certain races/nationalities/ethnicities. I’m afraid this is going to be a really rough lesson for her.

    1. Czhorat

      Exactly.

      Not only is “Not well spoken” one of those nebulous phrases which is hard to prove and can be cover for racial bias, but “is articulate” is a common backhanded compliment for an African-American — with the underlying assumption that African Americans are NOT commonly articulate.

      The examples she gave are most prevalent in the AA community, making this worse. If a white southerner had said “y’all” in the interview, would she have rejected them in the same way?

      If you want my advice on how to support your colleague, I can sum it up in one word: “Don’t”.

      Don’t assume that just because you like Beth she doesn’t have conscious or unconscious bias.
      Don’t assume that the applicant doesn’t have a case, and wasn’t harmed by Beth’s actions.
      Don’t reflexively take the side of the one with more power because they’re known to you and part of your team.
      Don’t assume that racial bias doesn’t exist because it hasn’t impacted you.

      Let the process play out. Be open-minded.

      1. Henry

        May I ask why you are assuming / what gave you the impression that I haven’t been impacted by racial bias?

        1. Czhorat

          I was, perhaps, not precise enough.

          What I meant was that you aren’t impacted by Beth’s perceived racial bias or, presumably, by bias in hiring decisions at your current company. That doesn’t mean that those biases don’t exist.

          To be clear, there’s not conclusive proof that bias does exist either. My point is that the initial reaction – to take the side of your team member – is not always the right one.

          1. Henry

            I haven’t been impacted at my current company but I’m a gay, black man who grew up in the south. I know what racial bias and bigotry looks like and none of that happened here.

            1. maxcherry

              I truly don’t believe Czhorat or anyone else is trying to discount your experience with prejudice. You know that experience better than anyone. But I do agree with the point that while you and others at your company have had a positive and unsullied working relationship with Beth, that shouldn’t be considered the predominant or conclusive “proof” of a lack of bias in her decision-making. Nor should the fact that the eventual hire was not white.

      2. Alton

        Also, I’d add don’t assume that Beth can’t have any unconscious bias or harmful ignorance just because she has black friends and worked with an NGO in Africa. Some people have unconscious biases against African American culture without realizing it, and some people (but maybe not Beth) put on a veneer of acceptance that’s actually very conditional (ie, black people are fine when they “sound white”).

        1. Henry

          Our industry is communications and it involves things like speeches, speaking to elected officials and others and writing press releases and giving press conferences. Using slang and not speaking clearly and using proper grammar would be hugely problematic. If someone greets their interviewer by saying hey dog they’ve indicated they have no problem addressing others this way.

          1. Czhorat

            Unless you were actually present in the interview you’re making assumptions based on how Beth presented it. I agree that slang is most likely not appropriate in a business setting. I ALSO see Beth’s rationale for not hiring this person as raising alarm bells. There may or may not be fire, but there’s certainly smoke.

            The smart thing for you to do is move away from the smoke, see what happens. It’s possible that she’ll be vindicated. It’s possible she won’t. It’s possible that your company will quietly settle to make the issue go away and give Beth some training on how to make hiring decisions without the appearance of racial bias.

            Whether her decision is racially biased or not, the language she used in defending it exposed the company to the accusation of bias. THAT is her fault, and on that she is in the wrong.

            1. Myrin

              What language could she have used, though? People who aren’t well-spoken exist, we read about how someone wasn’t hired because they expressed themselves poorly – whether in written or verbal communication – all the time here, and there must be some way to explain that about them when asked about a hiring decision.

              1. fposte

                “The applicant was overfamiliar and overcasual in his communications (addressing the female interviewer as ‘Hey, dog’), drawing extensively on contemporary slang that’s inappropriate by our workplace standards.”

                I get to your non-U.S. ear, Myrin, that might say the same thing, and it can’t completely skirt the question of the influence of race on the interviewer’s judgment because it’s a hot-button issue. But it includes a dealbreaker specific and avoids the fallback phrase of “well spoken” that has strong racial overtones.

                I don’t know if there are any neat analogues, but the one I’ve been toying with is a male interviewer describing a female candidate as “shrill.” Even if it’s for a phone job where the voice does matter and her voice is squeaky and hard to hear, don’t say “shrill.”

                1. Serin

                  Yes, well put; “shrill” is a good comparison. I winced when I saw “well spoken” because it has such an unpleasant history.

                  (That said, it requires rare bad judgment to say, “Hey, dog,” to the person who’s getting ready to interview you for a job.)

                2. hbc

                  That’s a good one. I was thinking how I might casually ask John Smith if he’s from the area, but I’m not going to do that for Xiang Wu. I mean the same thing with both (“did you grow up in this city or come here after school or something?”), but the person with the “foreign” name has probably had their fill of “No, really, I mean, where are you from *originally*?” conversations. No need for me to even appear like I’m digging for national origins.

            2. Henry

              Respectfully, I would say that getting and and addressing an interviewer with ‘hey dog’ is more than smoke.

          2. Alton

            And that’s certainly fair! Beth’s comments might well have been fair (and not necessarily race-based) in this context. But my point is that it’s harder to “prove” that someone doesn’t harbor prejudices or that they don’t have cultural blindspots. On the one hand, it’s valid for you to feel that you’re in a position to have a better sense of perspective on Beth’s behavior, but once you start getting into the realm of determining if someone has racist thoughts (as opposed to simply whether it’s justified to accuse them of racist behavior in a particular instance), it’s kind of an unwinnable situation. If I understand correctly, both you and the applicant are both African American. He felt, maybe sincerely, that Beth was biased against him. You’re certain that Beth is not racist. You’ve come to opposite conclusions based on your own experiences with Beth. Who can judge if one of you is definitely right and the other is definitely wrong?

            There are solid arguments in Beth’s favor here. But I think sometimes people make it worse when defending someone against charges of discrimination by focusing too much on how the person would never be prejudiced and all the reasons they can’t be prejudiced. It’s entirely possible for someone to have blacks friends and relatives but still be racist, so that argument only goes so far in Beth’s favor.

            1. DeskBird

              I feel like we are all falling down the rabbit hole of trying to “prove” that Beth was or wasn’t a racist or had racist behavior or used words that could be interpreted as racist. What do we have proof of? We have proof (again – we take the LW at their word here) that the candidate was unprofessional during the interview. An interview for a position that calls for very professional behavior to high profile people. Calling your female interviewer dog is not an professional thing to do. Using slang in an interview regardless of the origins of the slang is not professional. Interviewing calls for your best behavior – and if this was the best the candidate had to offer they were not suited for the position. So they should not have been hired. Period.

              1. fposte

                I think we’re not just talking about Beth’s situation but about ways unconscious racism can permeate the workplace generally. Which, if we can keep it reasonable, is a pretty good conversation to have.

                1. AD

                  True, but it’s not related to OP’s question and in the past Alison has been quite specific about getting drawn into lengthy conversations about very broad topics not helpful to the letter-writer’s needs.

              2. Stellaaaaa

                The issue is that Beth just should have known better. I don’t care if this black man happens to genuinely have been inarticulate. It doesn’t cost white people anything to stop using the shorthand term “not well-spoken” in favor of, “He greeted me as ‘dog’ and peppered his speech with enough casual youth-oriented slang that I worried he would alienate our clients.”

                This isn’t about what’s strictly fair and unfair. Should Beth be able to call out inarticulate people when it’s accurate? In a perfect world with no nuance, sure. But white people don’t have some inalienable right to call black people inarticulate (even in individual cases where it might be true) in the face of all of the knotty history around that descriptor. If we’re smart and socially aware enough to be having this conversation, we’re smart and socially aware enough to come up with a new and less racially charged way to express a thought.

              3. Amadeo

                Geeze, thank you! Accusations aside, maybe Beth could have worded it differently for sure, but at the same time in what world are any of these words appropriate to use in an professional setting such as an interview for a communications position? I wouldn’t be impressed with anyone who strolled into an interview and greeted me with any title but Ms. or Ma’am.

          3. CM

            Reading all these comments and your responses, Henry, I’m seeing two things. First, suspending Beth and asking for anonymous reports of racist behavior doesn’t seem like the best way to handle this on your company’s part. (On the other hand, if they are worried about this lawsuit, then it’s good CYA material and probably that’s why they are doing it.) Second, it sounds like Beth had valid concerns about the candidate’s professionalism and ability to do the job, but “not well spoken” and “used slang” sets off alarms for being thinly disguised racism. So during this investigation, she (and you, if asked) should give specific examples instead of making subjective statements like this. Say, “The candidate greeted me by saying ‘Hey, dog,’ at the beginning of the interview” and “When I asked him about his past experience, he told me ___” rather than “He used slang words that I didn’t understand.”

            1. AnotherAnon

              Seconding this, so it doesn’t get buried.

              Also, I know you said you can’t contact Beth, so could you ask the people conducting the investigation to prompt her for specific examples?

      3. Anon Anon

        I tend to differ on this perspective. I feel that an investigation of this nature, when it was clear that a more qualified candidate was hired and that the person who was not hired did not behave professionally for the position they were applying for, hurts other people who are discriminated against.

        There is a tiny group people who scream discrimination when they really isn’t any all the time. And I guess I tend to think that those screams hurt the people who are really discriminated against. And I’ve seen those sorts of discrimination claims (typically based on nothing) from every sort of person including white men and white women.

        So I really feel for Beth, and if I were in position, I would welcome the support from my boss.

    2. Consuela Schlepkiss

      This is a great comment. People who are not racist in thorough-going and deeply entrenched ways can still commit racist acts on occasion. That doesn’t mean they are terrible people, but it means that they do need to look at their own behaviors and be willing to change them.

      I work in a field that provides research and expert testimony on how language becomes a proxy for race. There is a tremendous amount of research about this specific thing, and Beth has a potentially serious problem here. Even if she meant nothing racist here, her language is exactly that of people who have been sued successfully for racist practices like denying employment or housing to POC under the Civil Rights Act. So things may indeed get very tough for her, and it would do her well to spend some time really thinking about her attitudes and whether she intentionally or unintentionally creates problems for herself and others with her language use.

      1. Czhorat

        Perhaps one way it can be reframed is that Beth is not being accused of racism, but of racial bias in a hiring decision. This presents it as an accusation about the impact of her actions rather than about her character. If the OP – and the rest of us – think about it that way it might mute the reflexive tendency to defend our friend and colleague.

        1. DeskBird

          But it’s not racial bias to choose not to hire someone that was unprofessional. The LW has pointed out that the job they were hiring for has to have high level communication skills – talk to the media and politicians. Someone in that position would have to display that they are very professional. He called his interviewer dog. Several times. In a situation in which he should have been on his best behavior. That is not ok! That is not professional – no matter what race you are. There were legitimate concerns that he would address a high level politician inappropriately. That is enough to disqualify you from the running for a job.

          1. Elsajeni

            I think there’s a secondary issue that’s come up in these comments, though, which is that you can choose not to hire someone who’s unprofessional for racially biased reasons. The way Beth phrased her reasons for not hiring this guy coincides with phrasing that’s commonly used to subtly express racist views, so it’s not unreasonable for the company to look into the decision a little more closely, just to make sure that the decision really was about his unprofessionalism and not about his race. (That said, it doesn’t sound like the company is handling it that well, either… but that’s yet another separate issue.)

      2. Henry

        With respect I disagree with you. I don’t think it’s racist to expect that someone is interviewing for a role involving communications can speak clearly and use proper grammar and not use slang or call their interviewer dog when they address them.

        1. Mira

          So. Much. This. I’m Indian, and if even an Indian man had come in for an interview talking in slang, I would pretty much write him off at once. So yeah, it’s not a race thing. It’s an in-what-world-is-slang-in-an-interview-even-professional thing.

          And if any candidate greeted me with “Hey dawg”? I think I would have been so flabbergasted that the interview would pretty much have gone nowhere after that aside from me figuring out how to wrap it up as quickly as possible. And I’m 28 years old, for the record.

        2. Sans

          I’ve been agreeing with everything Henry said. For gods sake, he said the person she ended up hiring was also not white! So how is Beth biased? Yeah, I get that there is a lot of bias out there, but it IS possible for a black person (or white or Asian or whatever) to not be well-spoken. Using “dog” and “dude” to address your interviewer is bad judgement – I don’t care what color the person saying it is.

          1. Czhorat

            The problem isn’t the lawsuit, which may or may not have merits.

            The problem is that Henry, as Beth’s boss, is expressing support of her during an investigation for racial bias in hiring. He has a responsibility to let the process play out.

            Imagine this: the rejected applicant’s lawyer subpoenas internal communications and finds an email from Beth’s boss saying “I support you 100% and will go to bat for you.” Does that make the company’s case stronger or weaker?

            It also wasn’t clear from the inital letter that Henry, the LW, is the direct supervisor of Beth. That, to my mind, changes the dynamic somewhat.

            1. Temperance

              Are you a lawyer? Because as a lawyer, the fact that Beth’s boss, who is a gay black man per his comments, supports her, it goes towards a good defense for Beth. The fact that Beth hired a POC for the role also goes towards a good defense for Beth. Her interview notes that show that the potential employee conducted himself unprofessionally also go to Beth.

            2. Grits McGee

              But Henry is letting the process play out. He’s not trying to stop the investigation, silence anyone from speaking out, or mislead any of the investigators.

              Maybe Temperance or someone who is a llama/lawyer can correct me, but an internal communication saying that Henry will support Beth as a witness to her conduct towards Henry is not malfeasance. Henry’s not saying he’s going to lie.

        3. Mazzy

          Actually I’m getting upset at this point reading the comments, there is such a misguided interpretation of racial bias being read into this.

          I’m actually getting really upset actually at the condescending attitude towards and infantilizing nature of some commenters towards POC in their comments. It’s as if we need to make a lower bar for interviewing non whites and expect less polished communication and vocabulary from someone because of their skin color. It’s completely insulting and impractical in most jobs even

          1. Marcy

            Ugh, same here. I’m going to stop reading now. The combination of these comments and the armchair lawyering over what is obviously a BS case…I’m just going to stop.

          2. Relly

            No one is saying “this candidate should have been hired,” “Beth is a racist,” “Beth should be fired ASAP,” or “we should set a lower standard when hiring POC.” No one.

            What people are saying:

            “Beth tripped right into using some racially problematic language, when dismissing a candidate. That’s not great.”

            “Beth should be aware that her phrasing sounds bad. Call him overly casual and familiar, or unprofessional, not inarticulate, because inarticulate has long been a code word for ‘does not sound white.'”

            “Slang that is considered ‘white’ is sometimes seen as more acceptable than slang that is considered ‘black.'”

            “People in general often have unconscious racial biases. Beth may be one of those people.”

            Those are all important points to discuss, and not one of them means that Beth is a bad person, or that she should have hired the guy.

          3. Mira

            Seriously. I’m not a white person either, and I work as a freelance writer for various brands and magazines, one of which is all about sex and relationships and Tinder-ing, and I have enough sense to know that even with clients like that you DO NOT use slang of any description when you are giving an interview!

            This whole nitpicking over the meaning over what POC should and should not be allowed to get away with in an interview frankly has me annoyed, because – uh, no. Just because someone’s skin’s not white shouldn’t mean they get away with using slang and calling their interviewer a dog. To the people who think that POC should be able to get away with it – please stop. It’s downright insulting.

            Yes, I agree that there is a lot of systemic racial bias going on in the US, but sometimes, you have to call a spade a spade and all I’m getting here is that a special snowflake thought he was being oh-so-cool, didn’t get the job despite that, and is now kicking up a fuss because this is likely his eleventieth rejection, if this is how he acts in interviews.

        4. Consuela Schlepkiss

          Hi, Henry.

          I want to be clear that I was not suggesting that Beth is herself a racist. What I was saying is that her language use mirrored that that has been used to make allegations in lawsuits in other contexts. Your updates have provided some important context that make me think a few things are in play: 1. She said something in explaining her hiring decision that sounds like racist language used in other contexts, even though she did not mean it that way; 2. this situation probably has some people worried. Even if it is ultimately baseless, it is still a distraction from the business of the day. It sure seems like her suspension may be a big overreaction, given your knowledge of her. I think you are doing your due diligence as her boss to try to figure out how you can support her. I sincerely hope that this investigation proceeds quickly and fairly, and that your perspective on her is persuasive.

      3. Myrin

        It seems that “not well-spoken” in particular is the expression that made people alarmed here (I wouldn’t know since I’m not in the US and not even in an English-speaking country, so I have no lived history for this at all), in which case, we don’t even know if these are the exact words Beth used or if OP just said that to sum up a bunch of points she had (like how he maybe mumbled and just starting ending sentences without finishing them; there has to be some way of describing that, after all).

        I’m also going to copy what I wrote above because I feel like it’s relevant here: “And as bad as it sounds, it seems like in this instance, it doesn’t even matter if Beth has racial biases or not. Someone who, as per the OP, was much more qualified than everyone of the other candidates was hired into the role; that seems like a pretty straightforward and relatively objective reason to hire someone and the investigation should conclude as much. Furthermore, I’d argue that there are very few positions where it would be okay to greet your interviewer or any person you should want to make a good impression to with “Hey dawg”, much less a role that places great importance on communication and eloquence. Again, this seems like quite an objective parameter that should be easily comprehensible to everyone.”

        1. Katie the Fed

          Based on the additional information – I don’t really think Beth did anything wrong. But for her sake I hope she didn’t frame it the way it was a framed above, because that doesn’t sound great.

      4. Genuinely Curious

        I’m in the UK here, so please don’t flame me for this comment, as I am genuinely curious. How do I not show unconscious bias against a culture if I’m legitimately unaware of that culture (I had no idea that bae was even specifically a POC term; as others have said, the UK/US context is different)? I’m not going to assume that any time someone from a different culture uses a slang word that it must be reflective of their culture, especially as sometimes it’s not so obvious what their culture is. But I also don’t want to be a racist (subconscious or otherwise), and I definitely don’t want to act in a racist manner.

          1. Jwal

            I think that’s a bit dismissive to say, and not entirely actionable. Here we are talking about a candidate who is black, but even if he is using words of his culture they won’t necessarily be the words of another black person’s culture. There isn’t a homogenous black/white/asian/US/whatever culture.

            I think learning about things is definitely the right thing to do, but I don’t think it’s as simple as that.

            1. Roscoe

              Thanks you. It feels fairly insulting when people mention african american culture in the US that has nothing to do with me as a black man. I think the terms fleek and bae are stupid. Does that mean I’m not a part of black culture? I mean, black culture in Atlanta and black culture in San Francisco is completely different, but we paint it all the same.

            2. EW

              But how else do you prevent yourself from having an unconscious bias? I didn’t mean it as dismissive. I just don’t know how else to expand on it? Fposte had a good comment about how the UK location makes learning about US cultures less relevant in day to day life.

              1. Jwal

                I agree that educating yourself is good.
                But I don’t think that it’s as simple as saying (for example) there is one black culture, so I could learn about that and know that X words are part of the culture and Y words are just words that the particular person happens to be using. And one can’t assume that a person belongs to any particular culture just based on their skin colour, so it can be hard to know what to think.

        1. Katie the Fed

          Well….I’m going to guess he wasn’t speaking like an erudite English professor and then tossing in words like that. There is definitely a “black” pattern of speech that most people who live in the US would know pretty well.

          I mean, if I lived in India I probably wouldn’t know how to tell who the Dalits are, but my Indian friend can figure out castes pretty quickly based on a lot of cues I wouldn’t know.

          Culture is fascinating.

          1. Circles

            Katie the Fed: I looked up the phrase well spoken and this is what the first result was:

            well spo·ken
            adjective
            (of a person) speaking in an educated and refined manner.
            synonyms: articulate, eloquent, coherent, nicely spoken

            It wasn’t until the fifth result that it was mentioned that it is not always a compliment.

            Racism exists. Sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. I don’t think Beth’s decision to not hire this person was racist. The OP (Henry) has mentioned in follow-up comments that he also addressed Beth as “dog” when greeting her and that the role involved communications, specifically press releases, press conferences and dealing with elected officials.

            1. Katie the Fed

              Did you happen to google “calling someone well spoken?”

              I have addressed the dog comment elsewhere. This comment was in response to Genuinely Curious’s question about how she should some words are part of a culture.

              1. Circles

                No, just well spoken. I honestly though well spoken was a compliment until reading some of the comments on this thread.

                1. Relly

                  It is a compliment. The problem is that in some circumstances it’s often a compliment given in a backhanded way.

                  African Americans are described as being ‘very well spoken’ — with the unvoiced implication that other/most AAs are not. This is especially the case when someone sounds surprised, like”Goodness, you’re _very_ well spoken!”

                  Similarly, if someone tells a woman “wow, you’re actually very reasonable,” or “gosh, you’re surprisingly good at math,” the unspoken implication is “even though you’re a woman, because most women aren’t.”

        2. TL -

          If you’re in the UK, you’re likely to not encounter this.

          But it might help to think of slang in America as similar to accent in Britain. It can mark you in a very particular, widely understood way within your own culture – and thus people within that culture should spend some time examining what assumptions that make – but it can be next to worthless as a marker in a different culture.

        3. fposte

          For a UK person, it would be a demanding expectation to know cultural strands in the U.S.. For a U.S. person, I don’t think it is, and I’m questioning the word “legitimate” there (I don’t think that’s how you meant it, but I’m going to ride it for a minute anyway). It’s a broad cultural problem rather than an individual problem, but I’m not sure it’s “legitimate” to be unfamiliar with huge issues in my own country and how they present themselves. That doesn’t mean I have to know every detail (I’ve definitely been behind the curve on some new stereotypes and dog-whistles), and I’m not tying this to Beth specifically but the larger issue. Basically, the fact that I could live in the U.S. and *not* know about this is part of a problem, so while it may be true, it’s not a great justification.

        4. Serin

          The fundamental problem is that people unconsciously equate “professional” with “just like me” (or “just like the most powerful caste in my country”).

          So you’ll get men who can’t imagine any woman’s shoe that is “professional” for office wear. Or white people who dismiss every hairstyle that works for black hair as “unprofessional.”

          I don’t even know what the racial tensions are in the UK, but if you think that someone is unprofessional, ask yourself what they would have to do to become professional. If the answer basically boils down to “become more like a white man,” or whatever your local equivalent is, then there’s your trouble.

        5. Stellaaaaa

          Think about how American rap artists speak vs how Britney Spears speaks. Britney isn’t well-educated and she peppers her speech with a lot of folksy southern slang, but she’s far less likely to be considered low-class or uneducated than a hip-hop artist would be. If you’ve ever had unfavorable thoughts about the speech of a black musician or actor, you’re guilty of the same things as Beth.

          I’m lucky in that I don’t have to code-switch much in a situation like a job interview. I have to remember not to say “like” every third word, and I instinctively know not to call my interviewer “dude.” Black individuals have to completely overhaul how they speak (often adopting something of a new accent) to sound white if they want to sound white/professional in an interview. The problem is that there’s only one “accepted” way to sound professional in the workplace, and it’s suspicious that it closely mirrors the way white people already talk.

          We could also get into the fact that black people, men in particular, are not “trained” to succeed in office environments the way white/white-appearing people are. I’ve been primed for corporate work my whole life. I have the resources and upbringing to understand the norms of things like that. I won’t make assumptions about the applicant’s background (and I certainly am not saying that he must not be experienced with professional job interviews simply because he’s not white) but it’s definitely a “thing” that we forget that office life/working norms are things you have to be taught. There’s a possibility that this applicant landed this interview but never had anyone in his life or schooling teach him how to behave in an interview. Part of being open-minded is understanding when people are underprivileged in small ways like these.

          1. Sazz

            I consider Britney Spears to be fairly low-class and less educated because of how she speaks. She talks like my relatives talk, many of whom are in fact low-class and less educated.

    3. Not Karen

      Since when were fleek and bae common to black people? I’ve only ever heard white people use those terms.

      Regardless, slang is not appropriate in an interview.

      1. Katie the Fed

        They originated in black communities and have been appropriated by white speakers. There are many examples of this (and some interesting academic research around it too).

      2. fposte

        I think slang is sneakier than that, though–some slang we likely wouldn’t bat an eye at, and sometimes it would take a cumulative effect. When looking at slang American terms for non-Americans, you see stuff like “take a raincheck,” “shoot the breeze,” “pass the buck,” “sweet,” “screw up,” and favorites such as “cool.” I’d be startled to hear all of those in one sentence or even paragraph, but I wouldn’t ding somebody who said “cool” in an interview.

      3. Princess Carolyn

        Really, it’s fair to assume that any new slang terms you hear originated in black culture until you learn otherwise.

      4. erika

        “on fleek” was invented a few years ago by a black teenage girl who is/was famous on vine. I assume that linking to an article will get me thrown in the spam filter, but if you look up “peaches monroee on fleek” you’ll find a lot more information about her.

        the fact that people other than black american youth are now using that phrase does not mean that black american youth didn’t invent it. this is part of a long process of cultural appropriation.

    4. Princess Carolyn

      There’s definitely some opportunity here for Beth (and those around her) to learn something, even if this candidate is truly not qualified. Racism isn’t really about how you, personally, feel about certain kinds of people. It’s about how your words and actions (or sometimes your silence and inaction) allow systemic oppression to continue. We should all worry less about the purity of our thoughts (“I’m the furthest thing from racist! I have friends of all races!”) and more about the effects of our actions.

  12. Emelle

    #4, I had an internship that went south as well. The department I was supposed to intern in was disbanded a month before I started and I was forgotten about in the reshuffle. I called to check in 2 weeks before I started and they were really surprised I still wanted to come. (Red flag 1, and I looped in my advisor that day that this was weird.) I report for my internship and find out that really, the person I report to is now in HR and is responsible for all of the resort activities and training employees. I am allowed one day every other week to work with the activities people (what my internship should actually be) and the rest of the time I am working in HR on trainings. And if the activities people work off hours (7a-3p, for example) I am expected to report to Hr because “the real world works til 5”. My advisor pulled me halfway through the internship because when he called for a check in, my site supervisor wasn’t willing to let me work more with the activities/events people and told him I was better off learning about how to put together an excellent training session on customer service. (Maybe, but that isn’t why I was there.)
    Keep your advisor in the loop, because he or she can advocate for you and help you advocate for yourself. I had to take an incomplete for the semester, and I started the whole thing over, but I got a good place my second try and I learned a lot.

      1. Chocolate lover

        Emelle didn’t actually say she had to delay graduation, just do another internship. Depending on the semester of the original internship, that doesn’t automatically delay graduation.

  13. Zip Silver

    #3 is a perfect example of why you shouldn’t give candidates a reason you rejected them. Just a “thanks for interviewing, we’re moving forward with somebody else” and be done.

    1. Henry

      Beth did not give the rejected candidate any feedback. Our HR department handles this using a generic wording similar to what you stated.

        1. Temperance

          You can file a discrimination lawsuit if you meet the base qualifications for a position and don’t get it or don’t get an interview.

            1. Temperance

              It definitely is, but some companies are wary of litigation and will offer to settle even on a baseless accusation just to make it go away.

          1. Mookie

            I’m aware of how they work. I am asking what the basis of this lawsuit is. What the plaintiff is alleging.

            1. fposte

              I’m not seeing anything that even states a suit has been filed yet, though; it sounds like they might just have gotten a letter from a lawyer.

          2. Emi.

            Do you mean “can” as in it’s possible to find a lawyer who will take your case, or “can” as in it’s considered actually a good reason to sue? Some jobs get hundreds of applicants so I’d think hiring discrimination lawsuits would be more common.

            1. Temperance

              The first one. Generally speaking, filing an employment lawsuit makes you look like a liability in hiring, so most people don’t do it even if they have a good claim.

          1. Mookie

            Does he offer reasons why this is so? Is he describing the hiring process as hostile? Does he claim Beth behaved poorly during the interview? Etc.

            1. Henry

              He claims he was qualified for the position (which on paper he was) and wasn’t hired. But Beth explained her reasoning for hiring the person she did to HR and why that person was chosen over the others and HR signed off on the decision and made an offer. A month later they were contacted by a lawyer for the rejected candidate and that’s when all of this started.

  14. M from NY

    OP3 Unless you have some first hand knowledge of what was said during interview /hiring process I think you should stay out of it. Your throwing in a black grandparent as “bigger picture” but unrelated proof does not support Beth at all and frankly makes me question if you are objective enough to recognize any biased behavior she may have exhibited during the interview process even if it wasn’t intentional. Just because she does not show bias towards you does not mean she didn’t to him. There are levels even with unintentionally biased behavior. Your passing the test doesn’t mean she’s always a fair grader.

    She may need some retraining or maybe interviewee has valid point. It’s possible you’re not seeing her behavior as biased because you’ve been accepted. You’ve done what was asked now let the process play out.

    1. Mookie

      Right. Racists, because they sometimes refrain from being racist, are not supposed to be granted freebies. One instance of it is not acceptable, and a thousand good deeds doesn’t erase it. This is not particular to Beth, but to humans in general. The existence of black relatives and friends doesn’t cancel anything out and is not proof of someone’s character.

    2. Henry

      Being well spoken is an important criteria because our industry has involvement in communications, press conferences and press releases, giving interviews and speaking with elected officials and others.

      Proper grammar, no slang, speaking clearly without mumbling and using someone’s name and or a formal title (as opposed to slang like dude, dog or bro) are paramount. A candidate who speaks like this in an interview as this candidate did would not work out in our industry and would cause an issue if they wrote and spoke as this candidate did in his interview. It would be a disaster if he addressed an elected official or a reporter as ‘dog’ like he did when he met Beth.

      1. OhNoNotAgain

        I admit, I cringed when I read the phrase “well-spoken” in the letter. I’m white, and in all my 30-some years I have only ever heard that phrase used by white people against black people. I don’t know what you can do at this point because of the lawsuit and HR involvement, but she should be coached on how racist that phrase is. Perhaps HR should do the coaching? I don’t have a clue as to who should do it or how to do it, but that is not a phrase she should be using at all. That alone makes me wonder how the interview went and exaxtly what she said to him. There may be a very good reason why your workplace is taking this seriously.

        1. Henry

          I think the six figure lawsuit and demand letter from a lawyer is what is causing them to take it seriously. As well as the potential loss of all of our government contracts.

        2. Alsoanonforthis

          I know a lot of people have mentioned the well-spoken part of this, but it’s interesting for a UK reader to hear this and other explanations here. Well-spoken in the UK is not usually an insult – although it may be said with an eye-roll about someone who is at the Queen’s English end of things. There’s perhaps a slight negative connotation that if you are well-spoken you aren’t ‘common’ – but that is, as someone has pointed up upthread, more of a class thing – if there’s any race alignment it would probably be to the poorer white communities. It genuinely is enlightening to see how comments can be perceived.

          1. OhNoNotAgain

            Yeah, it’s generally not ok for someone who is white to say that phrasing in regards to someone who is black. Beth may not be racist, but the phrase generally is, and people can say problematic things without being a bigot. I’m a gay woman, and if one of my coworkers referred to another gay person as flamboyant (if a man) or manly (if a woman ), I’d wonder about unconscious bias they may have and it would make me uncomfortable in the workplace even if they were OK with me. The words flamboyant and manly aren’t inherently bad–context matters. This isn’t an ideal comparison by far, but it’s the perspective I come from. Certain words and phrases do get applied to specific groups of people in ways that don’t get applied to majority groups and the public in general.

  15. Lurker

    “Beth says she decided not to hire him because he was not well spoken and used slang and words in the interview that she didn’t understand (such as fleek, bae, and woke).”

    That’s like, a textbook example of a racial microagression.

    1. Henry

      Our industry has involvement in communications, so proper grammar, no slang, speaking clearly without mumbling and using someone’s name and or a formal title (as opposed to slang like dude, dog or bro) are paramount. A candidate who speaks like this in an interview as this candidate did would not work out in our industry and would cause an issue if they wrote and spoke as this candidate did in his interview. We also deal with the media and occasionally someone in the role he was interviewing for has to speak to the media or an elected official. Him greeting people with hey dog as he did his interviewer.

      Also for the record, the candidate Beth hired is not white.

      1. Ange

        That’s not necessarily relevant – a person could have, at the same time, a bias that black men are inarticulate AND a bias that, say, Asian people are polite and well-spoken. Positive bias is still bias.

        Also I think you’re getting a bit misled by people equating “did something that is/might be racist” with “is a racist”. I’m perfectly willing to believe that Beth is not a racist; that doesn’t mean she is incapable of doing something that is racist.

        1. Henry

          It is relevant because anyone (no matter their race) who addresses their interviewer as dog (as in hey dog) and uses slang like I mentioned above in an interview is giving the impression they would do this through the normall course of their work, which is hugely problematic.

          1. Ange

            Slight misunderstanding there I think – I was referring to the last part of your comment about the successful candidate being non-white.

        2. Myrin

          I mean, I agree and all, but I’m still feeling that this comment and many others aren’t trusting the OP – who is actually involved in this situation and has a much better view of everything it entails than random internet commenters – to adequately evaluate the situation and aren’t taking him by his word.

          And as bad as it sounds, it seems like in this instance, it doesn’t even matter if Beth has racial biases or not. Someone who, as per the OP, was much more qualified than everyone of the other candidates was hired into the role; that seems like a pretty straightforward and relatively objective reason to hire someone and the investigation should conclude as much. Furthermore, I’d argue that there are very few positions where it would be okay to greet your interviewer or any person you should want to make a good impression to with “Hey dawg”, much less a role that places great importance on communication and eloquence. Again, this seems like quite an objective parameter that should be easily comprehensible to everyone.

          1. Temperance

            I think the phrase “well spoken” is what got stuck in so many craws, because it has traditionally been used in a racist manner. It’s clear to me that this man was unprofessional and informal in that job interview, though, and I frankly wouldn’t have hired him, either. I worked in a lot of customer service jobs, too, and going to a job interview and greeting your interviewer with “hey dawg” would have been disqualifying.

            Code-switching is a thing. I regularly work with black high school students on a project, and they way that they speak to our partners/managers is not how they speak with each other (or me, but I’m fine with it). These are kids and they know how to conduct themselves. This was a man applying for a communications-heavy job.

          2. Anon for this

            Yeah, I think that Henry has explained the reasoning behind the decision quite well, and people are still jumping on him. It sounds (on the face of it) that this is quite a spurious lawsuit, and yet people seem to be intent on seeing racism and micro-agression where none may exist (the point being, none of us on the internet can actually tell what went on). Maybe Beth is racist. Maybe she isn’t. We don’t know. But Henry, who knows her personally, has said that he (and others) have never observed racist behaviour from her. He’s not saying she’s not a racist, just that this seems to be out of pattern for her observable behaviour. Why can’t we take people at their word? We do for other letter writers, but seem to be unable or unwilling to do so for Henry.

            1. Katie the Fed

              So I actually do believe Henry. BUT it’s possible to believe Henry’s perspective and also point out that there might be valid reason for this particular case to have some concerning racial elements. Now, Henry’s provided further information that make me feel less like this was a racial issue, but Beth probably does need a bit of coaching if she framed the rejection the way she did above because it just does not sound good. And if that’s been documented I don’t think it’s going to look great in her case.

      2. Mustache Cat

        I believe you in everything you say about the hiring process; however, arriving at the correct conclusion in the hiring process is not exclusive of exhibiting racial bias. Beth could have rejected the candidate for perfectly valid, non-racist reasons and still have been engaging in microaggressions and biased behavior during the interview. We (and you) don’t really have ways of knowing.

        All this is to say: I am NOT encouraging you to automatically regard Beth as biased or anything like that. By all means, please continue to trust in your employee! But in relation to your question, it’s not appropriate for you to go to bat for her in this situation until the investigation is over.

    2. AthenaC

      It’s one thing to simply say a person is “not well spoken,” which is a judgmental statement, and another entirely to provide specific examples of what a person said that were not appropriate.

      Honestly, how would a person of any race expect an interview to go if they didn’t speak professionally?

      1. Katie the Fed

        The problem in this situation is that the way in which the interviewee was described as not speaking professionally was VERY rooted in particulars of black vernacular.

        1. AthenaC

          Black, white, purple vernacular – that doesn’t make it any more professional.

          I’m aware that professional norms arise primarily from “white” culture, and that as such it’s likely to be more of a cultural shift for a non-white person than a white person, but:

          1) professional norms aren’t going to change overnight (and I would probably even argue that they shouldn’t); and
          2) speaking professionally is not a difficult skill to learn.

          1. Lurker

            Yeah there’s no such thing as “purple” vernacular. Let’s not be disingenuous about unconscious biases as they relate to English dialects coded along racial and class lines.

            1. AthenaC

              And let’s not go witch-hunting for racism. Unprofessional is unprofessional, which the OP gave specific examples of. Simply because this particular flavor of unprofessional conduct is more common among certain racial and class groups doesn’t make an interviewer racist for rejecting unprofessional conduct.

              1. maxcherry

                I’m not sure the implication of Lurker’s comment struck through, because the term “purple vernacular” comes off as pretty callous for equating real race issues with an imaginary purple population. And I don’t think it’s particularly helpful for you to allege this is a witch hunt for racism, when it’s really just a few conscious people raising the issue of coded language and dog whistles as part of a broader conversation about mainstream professional culture and how it affects POCs. In fact, every single comment I’ve read from those people has easily acknowledged that the applicant was unprofessional and communicated in a manner that didn’t align with expectations and requirements of the job.

  16. Always Anon

    LW#3: You mention that your organization is large enough to have an HR office. Are they not involved in the hiring process to help ensure all legalities are followed? I’m not in HR, but have been a hiring manager at my organization. While the hiring manager/department reviews application materials and conducts the interviews, HR is consulted at each step to review the materials and ensure the methods being used prevent or avoid racism, etc. HR has to sign off before an offer can be made and that’s the time for HR to review any manager’s reasoning about why candidates aren’t qualified and question reasons that may have racial (or any other) bias.

    Whether or not Beth was acting as a racist, HR should be the experts in guiding hiring managers to avoid bias. If Beth was depending on HR to sign off on the hire and she was honest with them at that point about the reasons each candidate was acceptable or not for the position, it seems like scapegoating for HR to then suspend her.

    1. Henry

      This is how it works in our organization. Beth conducted the interview because the position is on her team. But HR screens the applicants and is involved every step of the way. In this case the successful candidate was not white. Beth disclosed to HR in detail as to why she wanted to hire the successful candidate over the others but the allegation by this person and their lawyers is that Beth didn’t hire him because of his race (nothing to do with his qualifications are mentioned)

        1. INFJ

          Why do people keep saying that? (honest question) If the rejected candidate’s argument is “Beth doesn’t hire nonwhites” and she did, well… doesn’t that make his point moot?

          1. hbc

            Because the argument isn’t that Beth doesn’t hire non-whites, it’s that Beth unfairly discriminated against PoCs or blacks or African Americans. That might mean that you have a 5% edge if you’re white. It might mean you get dinged more for wearing basketball shoes versus tevas when they’re both equally inappropriate for an interview. It might mean that one slip of “dawg” or “bae” is a deal-killer when a slip of “dude” or “hubby” is okay. It might mean you ding people with “unprofessional” hair, which means women with kinky hair have to spend hours getting their hair straightened. It might mean she hires PoC who aren’t “scary”, which to her might mean mostly women.

            For what it’s worth, it sounds like she had good reasons not to choose this guy, and “I hired a PoC instead of this other PoC” is a really good place for a defense team to start. But it’s not at all proof by itself.

          2. Tuxedo Cat

            Some people will only discriminate against one race but not another. For example, a biased hiring manager might not hire a black candidate because of stereotypes but is okay hiring an Asian candidate.

      1. HR Madness

        As someone who investigates a lot of claims, I really feel for you. It sounds like you did everything right, I mean, HR is involved the whole way, Beth has to explain exactly why she chose the candidate she chose, and HR signs off on it. From the outside looking in, your process is designed to try to keep unconscious bias out as much as possible. And it sounds like Beth & yourself (and your company) have an awareness that it does happen which is probably why this process exists in the first place. And even with all that sometimes lawsuits will happen.

        If she gets cleared, she is going to really need your support after it’s done. I would focus my energy there if I were you. I have seen lawsuits take good managers down. They close off, stop wanting to hire, don’t have any personality to them anymore, questions themselves, out of fear. As her manager, when this is all done, you can coach her through that.

        I agree that it’s probably best to stay away from it during the investigation, unless you are specifically asked.

  17. Temperance

    LW2: do you have to keep handling this task for your coworker? It sounds like the extra work + dealing with her is costing you a lot of time.

  18. Helen

    Alison asks that we take letter writers at their word. Given that OP #3 is in a position to know what the position entailed, given what is stated above and given that he is the same race as the rejected candidate and what he stated in his letter, I think he should be believed when he says that Beth is not racist and is being treated unfairly.

    He asked what if anything he can do to support Beth, not if she is racist or not. He is in a much better position to judge that than any of the commentators here.

      1. Temperance

        Henry, it’s clear that you support Beth and that you believe these allegations are unfounded, and others agree. Have you told this to HR/the team investigating Beth?

        I like Alison’s advice here a lot. I think many people find racism so abhorrent (AS THEY SHOULD) that they got caught up in addressing the potential issues with not hiring this guy rather than your question.

        1. Henry

          Thank you Temperance. I have spoken to the investigators and made my position known and I’ve passed along the supportive emails from Beth’s colleagues. I wish there was more I could do because I hate seeing someone being accused of something so far from the truth.

          1. Temperance

            Honestly, I think what you’re doing for her is great, and I am sure that she really appreciates it. She’s probably mortified and upset and second-guessing herself. Personally, I wouldn’t have hired someone who greeted me by calling me “dawg” and acted informally, either.

            I also might encourage you to try and reframe your thinking: while this seems more like a witch hunt/fishing expedition, I think it’s a good thing that your org takes accusations of racism seriously. Do you have any idea when the results of the investigation might be available?

          2. Loose Seal

            I do think that there is something else you can do if you haven’t already done it: make sure Beth understands the process, including that your company may settle with the guy so that the case will go away. If I were Beth, that would make me feel worse, like the company really believed I was racist and didn’t dare go to court to defend me. From a distance, we all know that companies settle cases all the time without admitting fault. But if it were MY case, I’d be devastated and feel like I couldn’t hold my head up at work anymore. So I think it’d be helpful to discuss that possibility ahead of time so she can start processing and accepting that.

          3. MWKate

            I think you are probably doing all you can within the bounds of what would be appropriate. You’ve expressed support for her both to the investigators and to Beth herself (which I’m sure she appreciates). I would say keeping on top of the investigation (as much as is appropriate) and continuing to support her is likely all you can do.

            From what you’ve said – it really does sound like there wasn’t racial bias at play here and Beth just phrased why she didn’t hire this person unfortunately. Perhaps, if this does blow over, some coaching on the best way to provide feedback on candidates would be helpful to her.

            Good luck – it sounds like you are a very engaged and good manager.

      2. Consuela Schlepkiss

        Well, to put my comment above into a frame that allows you to be a support to her, I think it is quite OK for you to tell her that in your experience, you have not experienced anything racist from her. It is not necessarily unsupportive to tell her that you are aware, however, that what she has said in this situation may look like racism that others have experienced, and that perhaps she might think through how to reframe some of the things she says so they don’t sound like things she doesn’t intend.

        It is entirely possible the investigation will find nothing untoward, but it might hurt her reputation anyway, which I think quite concerns you. I think the most supportive thing you can do is to kindly acknowledge these things to her, and that you believe she is capable of making any changes that might be necessary to avoid even the appearance of trouble in the future and moving on from here.

      3. EW

        I hope that Beth is not on suspension without pay. Have you been told to not comment to colleagues about Beth or talk to Beth? It seems like she has support from others in your workplace, and once resolved would not necessarily follow her around and ruin her reputation (as some others are suggesting). If anyone tries fishing for information you could come up with a blanket statement that gives her your support. This just sounds like a rough situation for everyone.

        Without the context of some of your other comments, the “not well spoken” did raise my eyebrows.

        1. Henry

          She is on suspension without pay. We were told not to talk to her before she had been interviewed. Now that she has been interviewed we aren’t prohibited any longer, but she is still off because the investigation hadn’t been completed yet. We still can’t tell her anything about the investigation though.

          1. always in email jail

            Without pay? That must be really, really rough. Is there a way ya’ll can come together to tactfully give her a giftcard somewhere, or some other gesture to make life a bit easier? I’m not an attorney so I don’t know if that’s a horrible idea or not.

          2. Marcy

            Wow. I can see why you’re so upset now. I can’t believe the company would put her on suspension without pay based on just the facts presented. Do you know if perhaps there was some other corroborating evidence or statement from others that would have led to a suspension without pay? Because if not, they really botched this.

          3. Grits McGee

            Poor Beth! Is there anyway for her to recoup some of her pay if the investigation determines that the accusation was unfounded?

              1. Katie the Fed

                I feel bad for Beth. I wonder if the company has been dealing with other instances of EO violations recently too. In my office, complaints over sexism got SO bad (and the issues were legitimately bad – I could write a book on some of the things that happened there) that it became very zero-tolerance for anything with the appearance of sexism.

              2. Snarky Librarian

                Wait, if the investigation concludes that Beth did nothing wrong and she can come back to work she won’t receive back pay for the time she was suspended?!? If I were Beth I’d be prepping my own lawsuit against the company…

              3. Creag an Tuire

                Whoa, whoa, if Beth is exempt (and if she’s a hiring manager she surely is?) then I’m pretty sure she’s be entitled to lawyer up herself under those circumstances.

                Your HR Department is increasingly sounding like a complete sh*tshow. I’m sorry.

                1. fposte

                  That’s an interesting point–it looks like FLSA does allow some unpaid suspensions for exempt workers, but “Such suspensions must be imposed pursuant to a written policy applicable to all employees” and be for an infraction of rules. So it looks like the suspension has to be outright disciplinary, not just pending investigation.

          4. AnotherAnon

            After seeing your comments, surely there’d be grounds for her to get backpay if/when the investigation is completed as unfounded? You’ve said this was documented with HR before they signed off on it, so presumably if there was an issue then HR should’ve also picked up on it then. I can’t imagine it’d be unreasonable for a request for backpay to be made (obviously once the investigation’s completed.)

            1. AnotherAnon

              Oops, took too long to answer.
              Wow, poor Beth. If they’re investigating thoroughly, they should feel confident enough to pay her for days it wasn’t her choice to miss.

          5. Alton

            Ugh, yeah, that doesn’t sound fair. It really doesn’t sound like there are enough signs of wrongdoing to justify that, and I feel like at the very least, it creates poor morale if people can be suspended without pay so easily.

          6. EW

            That is just horrible!! I’m so sorry. Please let us know in an update what happens. I hope your company does the right thing. And soon.

          7. Anons

            I’d suggest that Beth file for unemployment benefits if the suspension exceeds any required waiting period (it’s 7 days in my state).

      1. Nichelle

        I don’t want to speak for Helen or put words in her mouth but I believe she meant that Beth’s manager is not just explaining this away and siding with her because he is white and could easily say she isn’t racist. Since he is the same race he is in a better position to judge things (better than any of us here as Helen points out)

        Also +1 to what Helen said.

      2. Roscoe

        So basically you are saying that as a black person, his experiences with dealing with Beth don’t matter in a case about her being racist to black people? So who does matter?

  19. micromanaged rat

    I am really noticing how LW #3, who identified himself as black, has posted several times in the comments and no one is listening to or considering anything he says at all. In fact, people are lecturing him and suggesting he’s never been impacted by racism. Interesting.

    1. Henry

      Thank you micromanaged rat. This was my letter. I noticed the same thing, and I’m a bit disappointed in some of the comments. I do appreciate all the supportive ones of course, as well as Alison’s response.

      1. EngineeringIntern

        I think you hit a nerve with the particular phrase ‘not well spoken’ in the context of racism. Seems to have deeply rooted connotations.

        But with so the clarification you’ve provided, I think it’s pretty clear your support of Beth is warranted. She chose the best candidate for the job. The ‘white’ equivalent to that slang might be the old ‘valley girl’ speak, and I’m sure that hypothetical candidate workers have been hired either.

        1. Temperance

          I think the actual white equivalent is lower-class white talk/redneck slang. I grew up in a trailer park, but I never once went to a job interview and said “ain’t” or y’all or youse guys or any of the crass things I grew up saying/still say when appropriate.

          1. Sazz

            Yep, “ain’t” slips into my language often and I have to be on guard at work so it doesn’t slip out. I would not at all be surprised to be passed over for a job if I used “ain’t” in the interview, despite being otherwise qualified, especially if it was for a job that required excellent communication skills. Everyone knows what “ain’t” means, it’s not anything that needs to be explained, but it’s still not appropriate.

          2. Detective Amy Santiago

            I live in a city that has a widely known local dialect and I would be hesitant to hire someone for a communications related position if they used that type of language in an interview.

    2. Katie the Fed

      I don’t get that impression at all.

      Many of the comments were made BEFORE he weighed in. But the language he used in the letter above was problematic and I think that’s what people were pointing out.

      1. Roscoe

        Even after he weighted in, people are still lecturing him about how he just isn’t seeing things. I feel like there are probably a lot of “well meaning white folks” on here. But let me tell you, lecturing a black person about racism,including questions his intereactions never leads anywhere good. No matter how good your intentions are. Just because its the other side, doesn’t make it any different. white people telling a black person that not all interactions are racist when he says he experienced it, is really no different than whats happening here, with white people telling a black person a situation was racist when he didn’t see it that way

  20. MT

    #3, could Disparate Impact play a role here? Even though she is not directly hiring based on race, could her requirement fit the definition of discrimination?

    1. Henry

      In this case, no, because the role is a communications one involving giving press conferences and speeches, speaking with elected officials and others and writing press releases. Good communication, speaking clearly and proper grammar are requirements.

    2. DeskBird

      I’m sorry – Are you saying that requiring a job candidate to be well-spoken and professional… is somehow racist?

  21. Marcy

    I’m really surprised by the responses so far to #3. “Well-spoken” is sometimes use as a coded word for racial bias, but it’s coded only when it comes without any concrete and objective examples. Beth said this candidate was not well spoken because he used slang that is objectively unprofessional during a job interview and gave concrete examples. There is no coded message there. If a white candidate came into a job interview and used those words, they would be rejected for the same reason. I also think it’s irrelevant that these slang terms are common to the black community. This is a job interview, not a social situation. There’s no room for these words in a professional environment, especially not in a job interview, when you are expected to be at your most formal and professional.

    As far as what the OP can do to support Beth, I think Allison’s script is spot on.

    1. Stellaaaaa

      It would be like if you didn’t hire a woman who had indicated that she intended to take multiple maternity leaves in the next five years. Sure, there are logical reasons to want to hire someone who won’t be frequently absent for large chunks of time, and it’s completely valid to look at your company’s five-year plan and determine that you really need someone who can be on board the entire time. But goodness, please don’t say that you didn’t hire this woman because you thought she’d get pregnant some day. If you don’t realize what you’re stepping in when you say stuff like that, you deserve some consequences. Beth said the exact keywords that would trigger a lawsuit. There are nuances to the situation that make me think that this will work out in Beth’s favor, but we’ve all had internet debates wherein we’ve, say, tossed the “inarticulate” label at a human being who happened to be black, and then had to respond to 800 kneejerk comments to clarify that no, we don’t think all black people are inarticulate and omg I should have preempted my initial comment with a disclaimer and 4,000 caveats. When other words are available to you, there’s no reason to insist on using the ones that will lead to a million angry comments from people who are willing to overlook your actual point because they’re looking for a fight.

      1. INFJ

        Nope. Not the same at all. “Not getting pregnant” is objective and would never end up on a job posting. “Good verbal communication”, however, is subjective and can be found on almost every job posting, and in the case of the position being hired for, is essential.

      2. Marcy

        Well it’s plain illegal to discriminate against a woman for their future plans to get pregnant because the courts have ruled that it’s sex discrimination. It’s not illegal to not hire someone for being not “well spoken.” It has been years since I practiced employment law, but I am not aware of any case where just saying someone was not “well spoken” was enough to support a finding of racial bias. When you’re using dog whistle terms, context is important, and the context here suggests that Beth is using “well spoken” in the plain meaning of the term and not as a racist dog whistle, so I don’t agree that she used the exact words that would trigger a lawsuit. There’s also a big difference between terminology that would create a legal liability (IMHO, not the case here), and terminology that society would like us to use so we can all be more enlightened people. The comments here seem to be focused on the latter, when the OP is asking about the former.

        1. fposte

          I do think that there’s been a bit of an evolution from what the OP actually has said. There currently doesn’t seem to be an actual lawsuit, just a lawyerly approach, and the term “well spoken” was never used directly to the candidate. It also sounds like it’s possible that the term was the exact one in the job description, so if Beth was going down the job description point by point in its own terms, she’s not the one who originated the phraseology and shouldn’t be the one on the hook.

  22. always in email jail

    I somewhat disagree with everyone’s strong reaction to #4. I often take in graduate students who need a practicum, but I ask them to help out with smaller things first to get a feel for how reliable they are, how much I can trust their judgement, and how well they understand and follow directions. Of course, these “smaller” things are usually done alongside our paid staff and are a reality of the field we are in, and aremade clear in the interview process. But still, in my field intern/practicum students are often upset with the “low level” work they are assigned… when that work is the reality of the field they’re entering. Sometimes it’s good for them to know that that’s the reality of the workforce, especially the entry-level work force.

    I’m tired of interns coming in like “I would like to design, implement, and evaluate a program to end childhood obesity in the community in the 6 months I’m here!”

    1. Czhorat

      If it’s an unpaid internship, then it’s supposed to be educational. The purpose isn’t to give the employer a worker-bee they don’t have to pay for; it’s to give the intern a chance to learn something in exchange for appropriate work assignments in their industry.

      Where I disagree with you is that “unpaid intern” is not “entry-level job”. If they were hired as a Teapot Design Assistant with the idea that they’d copy existing teapot designs and carry out administrative tasks that’s one thing; if they’re brought on as a Teapot Design Intern then it’s expected that they’d be given actual design work of some sort.

      1. always in email jail

        I guess I should clarify that in my field, “entry-level” is still relatively high-level. But the reality is, with a graduate degree and no work experience, they’re going to be “entry-level” in my field.
        I see some of your points, though. We don’t assign them “admin”-type tasks. But an example would be helping us do inventory, alongside us. It’s a regular part of our job, and Logistics is an important part of our field that they are gaining hands-on experience in. It’s frustrating when you hear “this isn’t really what I had in mind” when that’s literally going to be the type of job they’re eligible for, and is going to be an asset on their resume.

        If someone demonstrates they can’t accurately count and document the number of teapots on a shelf with something resembling a professional attitude, then I’m not going to hand them a teapot design project. I do think 30 hours would be a bit much to make that assessment, though.

    2. KellyK

      I don’t think your situation is quite the same as LW 4’s though, unless you’re promising interns a totally different job than what they actually end up doing. LW4 isn’t asking to design and implement a program all by herself; she’s asking to do the HR work that was promised, rather than retail and telemarketting. While it’s true that people working in small organizations often have to wear lots of hats, the internship should’ve been presented accurately. It doesn’t sound like she’s done much, if anything, with HR.

      Also, while the low-level work is valuable in terms of experience, if you’re getting more out of an intern in low-level work than you’re putting in in terms of training, mentoring, and checking their work, then you really should be paying them.

      1. Alton

        Also, even low-level, basic admin work is going to be more valuable if the student is in a position to observe the workings of the field they’re interested in. Doing low-level work in HR is going to give the OP some insight into what HR work is like. Doing telemarketing won’t.

        1. always in email jail

          Right, and even if they’re going to be applying to higher-level HR positions, they need the “lower-level” experience to see how that work is supposed to be done correctly. It’s easier to supervise people when you have some concept of how their job is done.

    3. Temperance

      I do the same thing, although my interns aren’t really practicum students. I’ve noticed that my worst interns from a work-quality standpoint are the ones who think they should be doing my job on their first day.

  23. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms

    Can I just say,I am *so* curious as to how you would even work something like ‘fleek’, ‘bae’, or ‘woke’ into a job interview??

    1. Mustache Cat

      Ehhh, I think it’s inappropriate too, but I could potentially see for a comms job. Like if you’re positioning yourself as someone well qualified to expand communications to young people or something.

    2. Alton

      I could see it coming up in certain types of communications and journalism jobs or some jobs relating to activism or young people. “Woke” is a common term associated with the current civil rights movement and Black Lives Matter, and “fleek” and “bae” show up in a lot of articles aimed at younger audiences.

      Saying that you’d just moved to the city with your bae or something would be weird, though.

    3. Princess Carolyn

      “Woke” I could see. “Fleek” and “bae” would be trickier, I think. I’m comfortable with a certain amount of slang in an interview, but it does sound like the candidate was being overly familiar and casual.

  24. always in email jail

    To provide an alternate perspective on #3, thinking that slang is not appropriate for professional communications is not necessarily racist. I grew up in the deep south, and I can tell you if a white individual came into a job interview for certain positions saying “ain’t” and “I done moved that already”, it would impact the assessment of their professional verbal communication skills.
    Of course, this may just be evidence of socioeconomic discrimination rather than racial discrimination, and neither is OK, but this is just another perspective.
    To some extent it’s a matter of judgement. I cuss frequently in my personal life, but I’m not going to do that in a work setting. I use plenty of slang terms outside of work that I would not use in professional communications.

  25. Employment Lawyer

    #1: Protecting your company is not your problem. Absent a noncompete you can do about anything you want if they call you, quite possibly including “referring them to a competitor for a finder’s fee.”

    But sure, if you want it to stop tell your old company and they’ll handle it.

  26. Trout 'Waver

    An awful lot of people are crying racist where is it unfounded.

    A couple days ago we had someone ask about how to respond to people asking “Are you guys hiring interns?” The almost uniform response was that this was too slangy and most people wouldn’t even respond with a form letter. Now we have a candidate using slang in a job interview, and people are calling the interviewer racist. Maybe this interviewer is one of the myriad of people who were offended by the casual slangy tone and race has nothing to do with it.

    Also, maybe we should put more stock in the opinion of the person that wrote in who spends 8+ hours a day with this hiring manager rather than the rejected interviewee. I thought we generally are asked to believe the OPs around here?

    1. Katie the Fed

      Because the example given in the letter DOES sound racially coded. It could be unintentional, but it’s something hiring managers need to be aware of to make sure they’re not allowing bias to color their decisions.

      I believe Henry that he’s never known Beth to behave in a racist way at all. But that doesn’t necessarily mean she didn’t frame the rejection in a way that sounds problematic to an outsider.

      1. Trout 'Waver

        I’d agree if the manager was calling someone inarticulate for pronouncing ‘asked’ like ‘axed’. But calling someone inarticulate for using slang in a job interview is not evidence of racism. It may provide context given other behaviors or actions. But taken solely by itself, it is not racially coded. Using slang in a formal business meeting is a textbook definition of inarticulate.

        1. fposte

          The word wasn’t “inarticulate,” though, it was “not well-spoken.” It’s that that phrase is specifically a problem. It would probably trigger investigatory action at my employer as well.

          I’m hoping I can do this without being political and focusing on the language: you can wish to return America to certain kinds of greatness, and the words “make America great again” can be said by anybody. However, they’re most often said by people affiliating a certain way, and you’d be unwise to use them if you didn’t wish to be associated.

          1. Trout 'Waver

            Yeah, no.

            First off, political slogans are their own beast and I’ll leave that there.

            But, I do see your point and disagree. One word or phrase by itself is not evidence of racism and does not lump you in with other people. You have to look at context and look for patterns of behavior. If someone unknowingly uses a term that has baggage to someone else, it’s not a microaggression. It’s impossible these days to keep up with every word or phrase that might offend someone.

            1. fposte

              Nobody’s saying that one word or phrase by itself is evidence of racism. They’re saying that some words or phrases mean that it’s a consideration that needs attention. You and I may still disagree, but let’s be clear on exactly what :-).

      2. Rey

        Henry mentioned somewhere above that HR sent out the rejection, not Beth, and that it was a generic form letter that didn’t include personal details.

  27. overcaffeinatedandqueer

    I don’t know on #3. Obviously calling your interviewer “dawg” is inappropriate, but “not well spoken” could be about unconscious bias or not taking into account that AAVE is it’s own unique language with rules, not inarticulate slang (even though the differences between it and standard English bother my grammar-control-freak brain, I understand it has rules nonetheless).

    I know unconscious bias exists, even in progressives. I have lost interviews for being “too masculine/aggressive” or somehow too political, since I’m a lesbian and kind of butch. And I don’t use LGBT slang or get into politics- just don’t hide, and have LGBT activities on my resume under affiliate bar association memberships and extracurriculars.

    1. KellyK

      That’s about where I come down too. It’s pretty clear from the OP’s explanation that Beth’s reasons for hiring the candidate were valid and work-related, and that the slang was a turn-off because it was excessively casual for their environment.

      But at the same time, could there be some unconscious bias where Beth might, hypothetically, have interviewed a white person who used similarly informal slang, but given it a pass because it was SAE slang rather than AAVE? Yeah, there could. And does describing a black candidate as “not well-spoken” sound like a dog whistle? Yeah, it does. So, if Beth isn’t aware that “not well-spoken” is often a racist dog-whistle, someone should probably explain that to her.

      For the actual answer to the OP’s question, I’d privately email Beth to let her know that you sympathize with how stressful this has been, that you’ve never seen her exhibit racist behavior, and that you agree with her rationale for choosing the candidate she did.

      1. Katie the Fed

        This. I suspect she probably did nothing wrong. But if she characterized the rejection in those words in a formal document – that’s not ideal.

        1. Henry

          But it’s a requirement for the job and it’s one of the things listed in the job posting. I agree it would be problematic if Beth randomly came up with that, but she didn’t. It was in the job posting and HR wrote the posting, not Beth.

          1. Katie the Fed

            I mean in terms of the language she used, because this is one where that could matter a lot.

            Like, an explanation of “While qualified, candidate lacked experience x, y and z and qualification b compared to the candidate we selected. Also addressed interviewer disrespectfully and exhibited poor word choice and verbal reasoning skills during the course of interview.”

            sounds a lot better than:

            “Candidate was not well spoken, and used slang including words like ‘fleek, bae, and woke.”

            HR hopefully helped her with this before she put it in writing.

            1. Mary Dempster

              I really don’t see how. I’m struggling so hard here, and I’m trying, but they mean the same thing, just use different words. I don’t think you have say “while qualified” because apparently, they were not (for a communications job).

              1. Katie the Fed

                In the first example, you’re explaining why the slang/demeanor was inappropriate. In the second, you’re just citing it as the reason.

          2. fposte

            Just to be clear, the job description specifically says “well spoken”? That’s interesting, and it makes me think Beth really is getting treated unfairly if she’s merely echoing the language in the posting.

            1. Henry

              Yes. There is a section mentioning the requirements of giving press conferences and speaking with elected officials and others.

              Beth didn’t tell the candidate he wasn’t well spoken. HR gives unsuccessful candidates a generic rejection.

              1. fposte

                Right, but I mean in those exact words. If the job description said “Applicants should be well spoken” and Beth’s summary to HR was that this candidate wasn’t well spoken, that’s particularly unfair.

                Actually, maybe I should back up a little, now that I think about it. Are you just reporting on the tenor of what Beth said to HR and not necessarily the exact words, and are we–okay, am I–focusing on a phrase that maybe nobody actually said?

                1. fposte

                  @Henry–okay, then I seriously wrong-footed this one, and I apologize. Your company is doing a *really* bad job here, and it looks like they may be making Beth a cosmetic sacrifice. And that sucks. If it seems like she might leave because of this, one other thing you could offer her is the promise of a glowing reference to a future employer, because a disciplinary suspension can be a tough thing to have on your record.

                  Thanks for your patience here and your willingness to stay in the conversation, and I’m sorry both you and Beth are stuck in this situation.

            2. Detective Amy Santiago

              The more Henry clarifies in the comments, the messier this whole thing gets.

              I understand the racist undertones of how “well spoken” has been used against POC in the past, but it still seems appropriate to include in a job description that requires you to give press conferences and speak with elected officials. In that instance, it reads as shorthand for “communicates clearly and professionally”.

  28. Nichelle

    I have to say, as a WOC I find it troubling and patronizing that some people here (some of whom are white) are trying to explain to and educate a black person about the signs of racial bias, racism or unconscious bias.

    1. Henry

      I wrote letter #3. Thank you Nichelle. I feel the same way and am definitely disappointed in some of the comments.

      1. hbc

        Henry, I hope I didn’t come off as patronizing to you. I 100% believe your take on it, and some of your explanations have made it even more clear that there’s not a lot of room for nuance. I have been reacting mostly to the “there’s no way someone could be racist if they’ve done X or Y” that some commenters have said.

        I may also have been overly invested due to some coded comments that have been going around my workplace lately.

    2. always in email jail

      I am white, but I have to admit I’ve been cringing at a lot of the responses, knowing that some (if not many) or likely from white people. We are not in a position to tell other communities what they should and should not view as racist!

      I will say that, until fairly recently, I wasn’t aware that “well-spoken” was often viewed as a backhanded compliment in the African American community. My friend/colleague spoke at a forum full of professionals, and she knocked it out of the park. We are also in toastmasters together, so I approached her with “That was awesome! You were so well-spoken!” I meant it from a toastmasters technical sense (no “ums”, she took a moment to collect herself before responding so her response was organized, etc.) She explained to me that that bothers her when people say that, because she views it as expressing surprise that a black person can speak well. Did I intend it that way? Absolutely not. But do I get to decide what is and is not offensive to her? no. So I will be more cognizant of that going forward.

      1. Katie the Fed

        I am very, very grateful to black friends who have taken the time to gently correct me when I’ve said inappropriate things, rather than write me off.

      2. Detective Amy Santiago

        I’m another white person who has been cringing as I read the comments. And like you, I was unaware of the racist connotations in saying that a POC is well spoken, so I am learning a lot from the discussion.

      3. AD

        Yes. It’s been very disappointing seeing so many (regular) commenters being patronizing towards Henry. Very disappointing.

    3. lurking and such today

      I really hope people understand that giving black candidates a “pass” to use slang or bend other professional office/communication norms solely based on their race and history of AAVE really does not do them any justice and if anything creates additional roadblocks in hiring and getting them into more prominent positions. I’m the “pull up your pants, take off your hat, stop mumbling, don’t you dare use the n-word” type of black person and I promise you, outside of being an athlete or musician, black people who lack basic professional communication skills even with job training, experience and education regularly miss out on opportunities. If using terms like bae and woke during interviews can make the difference between a black person being established in a promising career or getting by on “jobs”, I say vernacular gotta go to hell and the slang has to die between 9-5.

    4. Alton

      The problem is that just as Henry’s perspective is valid, the applicant’s perspective could also be valid in some circumstances. In this case, it sounds like the applicant may not even be acting in good faith and that Henry is in a better position to judge. But if Henry doesn’t think something is racist but the applicant does, there’s not really a good way of taking a side without suggesting that one of them, both black men, is wrong. That’s why the facts of the case are so important.

      When it comes to workplace policy, I can see why an employer would try to take someone’s complaint of discrimination in good faith even if another member of that group doesn’t see any discrimination. I think it’s possible to acknowledge the validity of one person’s opinion but also acknowledge the possibility of someone having a different perspective, and the legal and ethical issues that can create in the workplace.

  29. lurking and such today

    The reaction to Letter #3 are interesting indeed! I’m black and I have witnessed situations where people unfairly throw the race card at a white person. I know there are many professional, educated and qualified black people in the workforce. They don’t show up to interviews speaking in slang, heck many don’t do it on the job. Many of us still have to work hard to shed the “affirmative action hire” stereotype when we are in prominent and not-so-prominent professional jobs. The last thing we need is someone who lacks basic professionalism to get a green light into a job so that a white person isn’t labeled as a racist. Also, slang is for kids or social settings, none of my black adult friends speak in slang at work and they work in blue and white collar jobs. It’s reasonably fair for a hiring manager of a communications position to pass up a white candidate who “like” and “ummmm” their way through an interview the same way Beth noped the black candidate who called her “dawg”.

    And if we are going to go there, the only interview where using fleek, bae, woke and dawg may be acceptable is if you are interviewing to be the doorman or work security at a very seedy strip club. “As head of security at my previous job, I was responsible in staying woke and protecting all our baes insuring they were on fleek. I’m always on point on the job, dawg.” (I’d hire this guy).

    1. Temperance

      I work with teenagers on a project, and they know how to conduct themselves in the office. (I make it clear that they can ask me questions if they need help/have an etiquette question, but I find that they are often hilariously formal and kind.) So this guy really has no excuse when a bunch of children who are too young to have ever held a job can keep it together.

    2. Manic Pixie HR Girl

      “As head of security at my previous job, I was responsible in staying woke and protecting all our baes insuring they were on fleek. I’m always on point on the job, dawg.” (I’d hire this guy).

      This is one of my favorite examples of, “Please use these words in a sentence.”

    3. DeskBird

      Thank you. I was really bothered by the idea that asking this guy to be professional and not using slang was somehow wayyy to much to ask of him, but I didn’t know how to phrase it.

    4. Former Retail Manager

      HA! I love your doorman example. Good laugh! And I totally agree with your point of view on the situation.

  30. Piper

    #3 I honestly don’t understand what everyone is talking about on this question. OF COURSE this guy didn’t get hired. He came into a professional interview with ‘Hey dog!’ and proceeded to throw in random slang like ‘bae’?! Really? On what planet is that professional language?

    Also the OP said that the candidate eventually hired was also a POC, so this entire thing is ridiculous. Also some people were saying that since the OP was Beth’s boss, he shouldn’t stand up for her? Of course he should! She very obviously did nothing wrong!

    And sensitivity training? Really? People do not need sensitivity training because they don’t appreciate being greeted at work with ‘hey dog’ from a potential candidate no less.

    I feel like comments on this site are mostly right on but these ones really bothered me.

    1. lurking and such today

      People are seeing racism where it doesn’t exist. I thought the mentioning of the slang terms used would have been enough for people to understand why the man wasn’t hired. I’m disappointed that AAVE made its way into the conversation. I don’t believe black people need a pass in professional work environments for lack of professionalism in communication.

      1. Partly Cloudy

        Agree with Henry, Piper, Lurking and such today, Former Retail Manager, etc.

        And Henry, I love the fact that you want to show support for Beth. Isn’t that part of what makes a great manager a great manager?

    2. Manic Pixie HR Girl

      Agree. I feel like they are covering their own behinds when the number one reason she hired another candidate (whose skin color is actually not relevant, in this case) is because said candidate was *the most qualified applicant.* I really don’t understand why some places make things so difficult when they are really very simple.

    3. Lily Rowan

      It does sound like Beth (and Henry!) should focus on the fact that the person who got the job was explicitly more qualified, based on the stated requirements, but seriously. I don’t care if the person coming in for an interview says “Hey dog,” or “Yo dude,” — it’s not interview-appropriate regardless of the person’s race or background!

      1. Katie the Fed

        They should. And I hope for Beth’s sake she didn’t write the reason for the rejection the way it was framed above, because it doesn’t look great.

    4. Katie the Fed

      “He came into a professional interview with ‘Hey dog!’ ”

      That wasn’t in the letter originally. It came up in the comments. A lot of us, including me, commented BEFORE that little tidbit came out. It changes things.

        1. lurking and such today

          This is how I feel. No matter the race, I don’t think slang belongs in an interview. If we have to go back to the public middle and high schools, vocational, community colleges, job training programs etc. and drill it into people, then as a nation we should.

        2. Katie the Fed

          That particular example is especially bad though because it was disrespectful to the interviewer. That’s a dealbreaker in my book.

          A little slang I don’t think is a dealbreaker, but context does matter.

          1. Czhorat

            Yes, this.

            From the letter, it could be part of the flow of conversation. If Beth were casual in her language, the interviewee could have been equally casual to match. Not saying it’s appropriate, but it’s a different feel than an interviewee walking in and saying “Hey, dog!” as if they were some kind of walking stereotype.

            We didn’t know the context. We arguably still don’t.

            1. Allison

              Agreed. I’ve found that the best interviews are the ones that feel like conversations, rather than stiff, formal Q&A sessions. I could see someone using slang because they felt too comfortable chatting with the interviewer.

              At my last job, the guy at the desk next to me was responsible for hiring young sales people, and man did he have horror stories of young guys out of college (mostly white) with atrocious interview manners. Some even showed up drunk or high! I don’t think any of those guys was hired.

          2. LBK

            How is that disrespectful to the interviewer? Unless you just mean it was too informal of a way to refer to someone in an interview?

            1. Mary Dempster

              Be the same if you walked in and said “Sup dudette!” – it’s inappropriate, and stupidly so.

      1. Piper

        I get that, but I don’t think that it changes things all THAT much. The other examples given in the original letter of terms used were just as unprofessional.

        And some people, regardless of race, are just not well spoken. I do agree that people actively try to find racism where there is none to stir up some trouble which seems to be the case here. The comments here seemed to be immediately anti-Beth without giving her any benefit of the doubt.

        1. lurking and such today

          At my previous and current job the “not well spoken” of the group is a middle aged white woman. No one actually uses that phrase when describing them, their communication just sometimes turned heads or made people mouth “wtf” when reading an email. In my position I was able to see how it held both women back.

          1. Former Retail Manager

            We have two ladies like that where I work, both similar in age, one black and one white. More than race, I believe it is an education/socio-economic issue. Neither has substantial college and neither has a degree. I believe they also both grew up in lower income, although not poverty stricken, households with parents who also did not have a college degrees. I routinely WTF at the wording in their e-mails and sometimes wonder what on earth they are even asking. I also believe that it has impacted both of their careers negatively (one has expressly conveyed those situations to me), although both seem to be nearing the end of their careers and are no longer seeking to advance so it’s a moot point at this stage.

        2. Katie the Fed

          “I do agree that people actively try to find racism where there is none to stir up some trouble ”

          Do you think that’s some kind of hobby?

          Or do you think maybe there is some value in saying “actually, the way you’re framing that COULD have some racial tinges and you might want to rethink it?”

          1. Piper

            For some people, these days it does seem like a kind of hobby. I’m not saying you specifically, so please don’t take it that way.

            I think there is some value in pointing these things out, but I also think that these days almost everything gets flagged as potentially racist that a few years back no one would have blinked twice at. It’s a problem when people can’t give a basic reason for why a candidate didn’t appeal to them without being accused of something.

            1. Czhorat

              Conversely, in the past actual racial bias was NOT called out.

              A study a few years back showed that identical candidates with typically African-American names got fewer job interviews than identically-qualified candidates with traditionally white-sounding names.

              Is there a tendency to overstate racial issues? Possibly. There’s also definitely a tendency to shrug off the fact that racism and sexism still exist.

              1. Piper

                True. I’m not saying that racism is not a thing. Though clearly it turned out to not be a thing here based on their final hire.

                I’m just pointing out that a lot of the comments were immediately critical of Beth and more on the side of the rejected candidate just because he was POC and she was white.

                1. LBK

                  I’m just pointing out that a lot of the comments were immediately critical of Beth and more on the side of the rejected candidate just because he was POC and she was white.

                  Well, that’s certainly a wild simplification/misreading of people’s comments. Yeah, it must just be because of reverse racism or white guilt, and not because there are legitimate points to make about cautioning against using racist dogwhistles.

              2. Piper

                Like if it had been a young white guy coming in using slang and generally coming off as a shmuck, everyone would have been like ‘wow what an unprofessional loser’ and here just because the candidate wasn’t, a lot of people are suddenly like ‘omg racism!!!’

                1. Temperance

                  It sounds like Beth’s actual colleagues are rallying behind her and are not accusing her of acting out in a racist manner. This dude, who wants $$, is.

                2. LBK

                  But there’s race-specific context to the terms Beth used. The situation doesn’t make sense if you just flip the candidate’s race to white because this isn’t an issue that applies to white people equally; criticism of manner of speech has a long history of perpetuating systematic prejudice against POC, especially when it comes to hiring, where relatively arbitrary definitions of “professionalism” have more or less always aligned with white behaviors and appearance.

                  The way Beth described her objections to the candidate align pretty closely to the way people have been rejecting POC candidates due to subconscious biases for a long time, so it’s perfectly valid to get your hackles up when you hear those terms. It’s not saying Beth is a closet racist who’s now trying to deny it, it’s saying it’s understandable why people are cringing/giving side eye to her phrasing.

                  If the candidate’s language can be examined and judged, I don’t see any reason why Beth’s language isn’t fair game as well.

                3. fposte

                  Piper, it’s not simply because the candidate used slang; it’s because none of these actions take place in a vacuum, this shares similarities with events that *have* been racist, and there’s a long history of events being declared free of racism merely because there are explanations that could make them non-racist.

                  And also because we’re only seeing slices of the incident and are thinking it through. But there’s no simple duck test that gets you to an incident’s involving racism or being free of it; it’s too complicated for that.

                4. animaniactoo

                  But some things indicate a systemic kind of bias when used to describe somebody from a particular group. It’s good to root those out so that they can be addressed.

                  For example – someone is talking about a co-worker. The comment is “OMG! What a drama queen!”

                  What is your instinctive reaction if that has been said about:

                  • An early 30s guy who is married with two kids.
                  • A mid-50s woman
                  • A mid-to-late 20s gay man

                  ? It’s dismissive in each case, but in *one* case it is especially dismissive because of a history of how the term has been used around that group. In which case, it makes sense to stop saying “drama queen” – maybe altogether, but in particular about the gay guy – and go with something that’s (currently) far more neutral and less likely to indicate a potential bias. Like “Geez he overreacts a lot!” or “Wow is he highstrung!”

                5. Chinook

                  “It sounds like Beth’s actual colleagues are rallying behind her and are not accusing her of acting out in a racist manner. This dude, who wants $$, is.”

                  Which is all and great but Beth is the one losing her pay while this is investigated and probably doubting everything she has ever said/done. Falsely being called racist is not benign and without consequence. I wouldn’t be surprised if Beth comes back to that job either hesitant to ever make hiring decision again or feeling the need to reassure everyone that she is not racist. That is, if she even comes back. If I were in her shoes, I would probably be job searching because it is impossible to prove a negative and I would see my career record at that organization as always having a stain. Plus, if she did follow all the steps, had HR sign off on them and used the exact words from the ad (which were then used against her), only to be blamed and punished, how could she ever trust the organization to ever support her about anything?

            2. Temperance

              So I’ve been on the other end of accusations by a person known to make these claims generally, and I’m still not comfortable with the idea that we can fail to take these things seriously because some people take it to 11. Those people, in my experience, are rare.

              I was lucky in that my reputation speaks for itself and I faced no consequences once I told my side of the story relating to the racism accusations, and I found out later that my accuser had a pattern of similar behavior and is well-known in our community for it. It doesn’t mean that a.) accusations of racism should be taken lightly because some people are litigious jerks or b.) I’m going to assume that I’ll never act in a racist manner or do something unknowingly offensive.

    5. Stellaaaaa

      I think that Henry is mayyyyyybe not seeing the distinction that some of us are trying to make. We’re not saying that Beth is definitely racist. In fact, many of us are saying that she was likely being honest and just happened to stumble into something icky. What Henry needs to understand is that, intentional or not, Beth said the exact words that often trigger discrimination suits. It doesn’t accomplish anything to say, “But Beth isn’t racist and therefore this suit should go away and we should act like it never happened!” You still have to deal with the situation as it exists, which is that Beth said/wrote something kind of dumb. If you offend someone, you have to own it and apologize for it, even if it was accidental. Would you feel bad if you complimented the appearance of someone who lost a lot of weight…and then had her admit she lost the weight due to a terrible illness? There’s no way you could have known about the illness when you complimented her, but a decent person would still feel bad and apologize, and you would also remind yourself that commenting on someone’s body (even positively) is rarely the right move. You might think that you deserve to feel a bit bad about the situation because you had forgotten something so fundamental about basic human interaction. It’s troubling that Henry’s position is that Beth didn’t do anything wrong at all, not even accidentally.

      1. Temperance

        Henry has given us a lot of context, including that the phrase “well-spoken” was in the job description and used by HR. Why can’t we just take him at his word on this, considering that he a.) knows Beth, b.) knows the situation better than any of us, and c.) is a black, gay man who has undoubtedly experienced discrimination in his life?

        It is really not great that we’re both doubting him and trying to whitesplain racism to a black man.

        1. Stellaaaaa

          This cuts all sorts of ways though. To use an example, there are a lot of Native American people who are okay with white people wearing war bonnets, and there are a lot of people from India who don’t mind when white people wear bindis. There are surely people from Japan who aren’t offended when white people dress up as geishas. In the discourse of race, it doesn’t undo a harmful act when one person in the targeted group says the he or she happens to not be offended by it. I’m Jewish and I’m not offended by the K-word. I just be, but I’m just….not. It hasn’t ever been directed at me so I don’t feel the ping of attack when I hear it. However, I would never posit that no one else should find such a well-established slur offensive just because it doesn’t bother me. If it’s the company’s fault for tossing around the “well-spoken” phrase, that’s actually a much bigger problem and it might be worth looking into whether they’re scapegoating Beth for this. IMO it’s getting off track to debate whether or not “not well-spoken” is racially charged when using it to describe a black person. It is. This whole company should have known better.

      2. Henry

        But Beth was just talking about something that was in the job posting. She didn’t make up the phrase up out of the air. She had to explain why she chose or rejected each candidate. It’s being held against her by people here for using words in a job posting that she didn’t even write.

        1. Stellaaaaa

          You still need to deal with the situation as it is. No one here is saying that Beth is wholly to blame for this situation. We’re saying that it’s easy to see how this all could have snowballed into something that looks like a winnable lawsuit, and you need to pick apart this scenario from that perspective.

          1. Temperance

            I think that the company could easily have this thrown out on summary judgment. I mean, the claim is incredibly weak – she’s racist because I didn’t get the job even though on paper I meet the qualifications. After meeting him, he did not, in fact, meet the qualifications.

    6. Alton

      The thing that stood out to me in the letter was that Beth didn’t know what the slang words meant. The OP has been clear that it wouldn’t really have mattered, but I think some initial reactions hinge on the question of whether it would have made a difference if Beth had been familiar with the terms.

  31. TotesMaGoats

    #4-Talk to your internship supervisor. That’s my pt faculty role in addition to my FT job. If one of my interns (seniors doing 400+ hours) came to me and said that, we’d work out a plan. Involve your school if you can’t get resolution on your own but let someone know.

  32. Manic Pixie HR Girl

    #4: Echoing others to say you should loop in your internship advisor NOW. If the internship hours are a requirement for graduation, that means that they have specific ideas about what you should be doing that qualify as an internship. For my graduate program, our internship advisor was very specific with potential placements that it had to be meaningful, professional level work, or it *would not count* and would jeopardize our ability to graduate. The office was extremely active in making sure students had meaningful experiences, and would pull placements if they were not fulfilling their end of the bargain.

  33. Roscoe

    My thoughts on #3, as a black guy. First, yes, if she said she didn’t hire him because he wasn’t well spoken, that is just to me bad wording. Based on the OPs replies, it sounds valid though. If a white guy interviewed and just called everyone bro the entire time and was using other slang constantly, he probably wouldn’t be the first choice either if someone equally qualified who used professional norms was in the running. Also, it really does depend on the position. If you were working the mail room or something like that, I think there is a lot more leeway than if you are client facing. This sounds like it was for a communications job. You have to be able to communicate in a way that most people are going to understand and that represents your company. I’m in sales. I don’t talk to my clients the way I talk to my friends. If I came into my interview that way, I probably wouldn’t get the job. Its pretty simple.

    My younger brother is like the applicant here. From what I can tell, he never speaks professionally, but he also thinks every job he doesn’t get is because he is black.

  34. Allison

    Regarding #3, and this is more for my fellow commenters then the OP specifically:

    This, people, is a big part of why most hiring managers and recruiters don’t go into specifics when explaining why someone didn’t get hired. Not only does it leave the door open for an argument – or worse, plain belligerence and harassment – if you say something stupid, it can get your company in hot water. As others have said, getting rejected for not being “well spoken” can sound really biased to a person of color. And honestly, if you cite that as THE reason and say nothing about the rest of their qualifications, especially if the job didn’t involve a lot of verbal interaction with customers or clients, that does sound bad. It’s a bit like rejecting a woman from a traditionally male dominated role because she’s “not a good culture fit.” It’s best to just send along the rejection form letter telling them they picked another candidate, or that they will not be moving forward in the process, and be done with it.

    That said, I do want to agree that in general, calling the hiring manager “dawg” and using a lot of slang is generally too casual for an in-person interview in a conventional office environment. Maybe not a deal breaker if their skills are solid, but up against other, more professional candidates who are just as likely to hit the ground running and succeed in the role, yeah, I can see using the slang to rule him out.

    If this goes to court, and all the information about the hiring decision is presented, I’m sure Beth will win in the end.

    1. Circles

      You may have already read OP/Henry’s comments explaining that Beth did not tell the candidate this. The candidate received a form rejection letter. Beth had to explain to HR why she didn’t hire each candidate.

  35. Jade

    OP of #3, I’m curious, was the candidate’s lawsuit prompted simply by the fact that he didn’t get the job, or did Beth offer him an explanation of why she felt he didn’t qualify for it and he was offended by that?

    1. Henry

      The fact that he didn’t get the job. Beth didn’t give him any feedback, HR has a generic rejection that all unsuccessful candidates receive.

      1. Katie the Fed

        See, this is interesting. Most claims like that don’t go anywhere. I would assume this won’t go anywhere, because unless he has a clear reason to suspect his race played a role, it’s going to be almost impossible to prove.

        1. Temperance

          My assumption from Henry’s letter and the information he provided here is that this person is seeking an easy settlement. Some orgs will immediately fold when they get a letter from an attorney, even if there is no actual viable claim. It’s sometimes easier to throw some cash at an undeserving person than it is to litigate.

            1. Chinook

              Unfortunately, she did. She is the one being punished while she is put on leave without pay. The damage has been done.

          1. Anon Anon

            Agreed. And I work for a company that would settle to make it go away, even if it was unfounded. Hell, we settle with a former employee who was fired due to performance, and even with a paper trail, she sued for age discrimination.

      2. Allison

        That would’ve been useful in the letter. I, and I think others, were under the impression he’d heard he was rejected because he wasn’t well spoken, and that’s why he’s claiming race played a role. If he had no idea, and he’s just lawyering up because he’s assuming his blackness had something to do with his rejection, that’s another story.

        But, just to be clear, did the generic form letter include any sort of reason, or does it just say something like “we’ve decided to pursue other candidates”?

      1. Stellaaaaa

        It’s possible to be more racist against some races than others. It’s possible to deny a black man a job and instead give it to a Japanese or Mexican man. I don’t see how that is evidence against an accusation of racism against black people. The idea that everyone is either white or “not white” is super problematic and only further cements the notion that everything revolves around a “norm” of whiteness.

        1. INFJ

          So if the rejected candidate and the hired candidate were the same race, then the race of the person hired would matter? (honest question; trying to understand this better)

          1. Natalie

            You could still potentially have racism in play even if all your candidates are of the same race, if you’re (consciously or not) only hiring X People who conform to Y People culture. Take hair as an example – if you only hire black women who straighten their hair and refuse to consider a black woman who has a natural hair style, a racist lens is impacting your hiring even though all the candidates in question are black.

          2. Stellaaaaa

            Within Henry’s argument, yes it would matter. The lawsuit is specifically about racism against black people. Hiring someone from a non-black race doesn’t combat that in any way.

            It wouldn’t be entering the conversation if Henry hadn’t brought it up, but since he’s using it as a primary defense against Beth, it’s worth pointing out that it doesn’t help. There’s no realistic paradigm where it’s white people against everyone else. Non-white races can be racist against each other. As an example, black people and Korean people have a history of not always getting along in America. If Henry’s company happened to have hired a Korean man instead, that makes them look even worse, if that’s something they’re trying to present as evidence of not being racist.

  36. AdAgencyChick

    OP2, people who ask for favors don’t get to dictate the terms of the favor. You’re in the driver’s seat here! Feel free to be firm with this person: “I can do this for you this way, or I can not do it at all; how do you want to move forward?”

    Also, is doing this thing for Fiona getting in the way of YOUR work? If I were your boss and I wanted to assign you something else to work on, would you have to tell me that your plate is too full to take it on because of what you’re doing for Fiona?

  37. Roscoe

    So where do we draw the line at what “cultural” things we determine to be professional and which ones should be given a pass. People seem to think that AAVE should be given a pass (I’m black, and I disagree). But I’ve been to a lot of funerals and weddings in the black community where it wasn’t common to wear suits, and “formal” can be fluid. Somehow though we have decided that suits are the expected level of professional attire for interviews. What is really the difference there?

  38. The IT Manager

    There’s an unusually large number of comments here already. If the applicant did indeed use “bae” which I confirmed with the all knowing internet is short for babe or baby or an acronym for “before anyone else” in the interview, it sure seems like he was far too casual for a job interview.

    1. Temperance

      He also called her “dawg”. Too casual for a job interview, especially considering that the job is for a position that is communications heavy.

  39. Alice

    I wonder how different the comments would be if Henry’s letter started off: my subordinate has been suspended without pay during an investigation into racist hiring practices after hiring a candidate with good communication skills for a communications role, instead of an applicant who greeted her with “hey dawg” in the interview.

    Henry, since it sounds like you can’t fix the without pay part — can you at least push for a firm timeline of when this investigation will be finished? That might help your subordinate decide whether to cut her losses at this organization and move on (hard with this hanging over her head, but better than an indefinite unpaid suspension).

    1. LBK

      But the way Beth described her objection to the candidate’s speech is relevant. It’s pretty much the textbook example of subconscious racist bias, and it’s something worth being cognizant about.

      1. Alice

        It is good to be cognizant of subconscious racism. And yes, just as women can be misogynistic, people of color can internalize the same prejudices that everyone else in our society has, and so it may be that Henry himself and other people in the organization are prejudiced against applicants speaking AAVE.

        That said, one of the great things about this community is that people try to take letter writers’ perspectives and questions at face value. Henry wrote in to ask how he can support the hiring manager, and I don’t think he’s gotten a lot of responses about that in the comments.

      2. Chinook

        Even if the way she described her objection takes the wording directly from the job description (which presumable would have been signed off by HR)? Too me, it looks like HR is using Beth as a sacrificial lamb.

      3. I GOTS TO KNOW!

        I think it would be if not for the job description. BUT the job description says a qualification is being “well spoken” – so in her reasoning to HR (not to the candidate, but to HR) she said he was “not well spoken” – using the terminology they put in the job posting. So I don’t think using that terminology is an example of unconscious racial bias in this case.

        Also, the candidate only knows that: a) he is black, b) he is qualified on paper, c) Beth is white, and d) he didn’t get the job. He doesn’t know that Beth told HR he wasn’t well spoken.

        The “not familiar with” part of the reasoning on slang is worrisome – does that mean slang she is familiar with is ok? I feel like “was overly casual and used slang in an inappropriate setting” is better than “used slang I am not familiar with.” So that might be worth examining further with Beth on the topic of unconscious bias.

  40. AthenaC

    #3 – Why are people’s opinions changing from Henry’s “additional context” in the comments? In the original letter, he provided specific examples of inappropriate interview language (fleek, bae, woke); to me that’s sufficient evidence of the “not well-spoken” assessment. How does the additional data point of “hey dog” materially change anyone’s opinion?

    1. Czhorat

      It changes it substantively for me.

      That he used informal language is a potential issue, but what was presented was not “their language was not appropriately formal for the situation” it was “they used words *I* don’t understand” with examples of those words all being common slang in African American communities. The implication was that if the applicant had mentioned a “sweety” rather than a “bae” it would have been acceptable.

      “Not well-spoken” is also, as many have said here before, often coded racial bias. If it were “the applicant walked in, greeted the interviewer with ‘hey, dog’, and proceeded to treat the process much less formally than was expected” it would be different.

      To me the story in the original letter and the story that came out in the comments are two very different entities.

      1. Alex "Barney" Barnaby

        “The implication was that if the applicant had mentioned a “sweety” rather than a “bae” it would have been acceptable.”

        I don’t think that was the implication at all. There is a wide, wide gulf between “this could be going on” and “this person is necessarily racist.”

        1. Czhorat

          The OP didn’t say “was too informal in their language”. It said

          “”Beth says she decided not to hire him because he was not well spoken and used slang and words in the interview that she didn’t understand (such as fleek, bae, and woke).””

          Had he initially said “The applicant was inappropriately informal and colloquial, initially greeting the interviewer as ‘dog'” that would be different. The issue was nor presented as appropriateness, but of the *choice* of slang words.

      2. AthenaC

        Yes, “not well-spoken” is and has been used as coded racial bias. But in this situation, the term clearly applies. There’s enough racial / sexist / whatever bias out there. No need to go witch-hunting for it.

    2. AnotherAnon

      Two main things made a big difference for me: the nature of the work (in communications – as opposed to a stockroom job, or something similar) and thus the actual job requirement for strong language skills. Also, “well spoken” is a very, very vague statement (others have already pointed out that it’s racially coded, too). It could refer to word choice (and slang usage), but it could also refer to grammatical structures specific to a dialect, accent, and a whole host of other aspects, and it came across as another issue in addition to inappropriate slang usage. As for the “hey dog” mentioned in the comments, that came across as something the candidate actually said (and used as a greeting, which has different implications than mentioning how their IT skills are “on fleek”, for example), whereas I read “fleek, bae, woke” to be general examples of the type of slang used, as they were preceded by “such as”. It’s possible I read that incorrectly, though. Overall, the context in the comments made a huge difference to the way I interpreted the situation.

      1. AnotherAnon

        Sorry, ignore this one – posted twice by accident and tweaked the wording at the end because I thought it hadn’t gone through. -.-

    3. AnotherAnon

      Two main things made a big difference for me: the nature of the work (in communications – as opposed to a stockroom job, or something similar) and thus the actual job requirement for strong language skills. Also, “well spoken” is a very, very vague statement (others have already pointed out that it’s racially coded, too). It could refer to word choice (and slang usage), but it could also refer to grammatical structures specific to a dialect, accent, and a whole host of other aspects, and it came across as another issue in addition to inappropriate slang usage. As for the “hey dog” mentioned in the comments, that came across as something the candidate actually said (and used as a greeting, which has different implications than mentioning how their IT skills are “on fleek”, for example), whereas I read “fleek, bae, woke” to be general examples of the type of slang used, as they were preceded by “such as”. It’s possible I misinterpreted (or maybe I pay too much attention to the way something’s phrased), but the context in the comments definitely helped me understand the situation better.

      1. AthenaC

        I read the “such as” to mean that “there are specific examples of things the candidate said, and there are other examples, but these are the ones I’m sharing right now.” In particular, I have a hard time imagining an interview where “bae” (or any other word for the same concept) would be relevant.

        I guess I just assumed that communication is important in any job. You have to be able to take and give direction. On top of that, choosing to use slang in an interview shows poor judgment.

        1. AnotherAnon

          Yeah, that’s possible too. Since (I presume, and Henry hasn’t mentioned otherwise as far as I’ve seen) he wasn’t actually in the interview, I assumed they were general examples as opposed to specific ones. If I misinterpreted, my bad.

          Obviously communication’s always important, but to different extents. Actually working in comms? Yeah, speaking the standard form of a language is going to be important. Working stock, where you’re only talking to coworkers? Speaking a dialect would likely be considered socially acceptable. You don’t need to speak a standardised form rather than a dialect to work with others effectively, and saying “yo, can you pass me that box?” to a coworker doesn’t impede on your ability to work in a stockroom, whereas it’d raise some eyebrows in an office. The context is important.

          Yes, using slang in an interview shows poor judgement in general. But there’s a level – I would raise my eyebrows at “my IT skills are on fleek” if it was in an interview, but it wouldn’t be egregious and isn’t anywhere near the level of greeting an interviewer with “Hey, dog”. I’m certainly not saying that Beth made the wrong hiring decision – by all accounts, she made the right one. But the phrasing “well spoken”, without the additional context given in the comments raised some concerns.

  41. LawCat

    #3, Alison’s wording is great. If Beth isn’t afraid to be candid with you, you may find that she doesn’t want to work for organization anymore depending on how the organization has handled it (and that the organization suspended her gives me some pause, is that typical?). Hopefully, you can can give her your full support in this regard too.

    I know someone who was falsely accused of something terrible and gross by an accuser with a grudge. It all panned out as demonstrably false. The person was deeply humiliated and emotionally traumatized by how her managers treated her, and they irreparably harmed their relationship with not only that employee, but also others the employee confided in (and frankly, it was just one of the worse cards in an already pretty full deck of terrible management). I know it meant the world to her that other managers did support her as a human being and also provided references when she wanted to leave and secured a better job.

    1. LawCat

      I just saw that the suspension was without pay. That’s really bad. Like not only for Beth personally, but for how other employees will see this.

    2. AthenaC

      My husband was also the target of a false accusation within the last year. Although there were no employment repercussions (I’m not going to fire him from his SAHD position, after all), there was still some significant emotional, financial, and logistical fallout. And guess who has to clean it up? Not the accuser.

  42. a girl has no name

    #3 The comments today have been really disheartening. Why are people ignoring Henry over and over again? Shouldn’t we believe him when he says that solid communication skills are a requirement for the job? It doesn’t seem helpful to just ignore him when he comments. He is asking how to support Beth, not if you think she is racist. I really think Henry has a good grasp on the situation, and frankly it seems rude to just ignore his additional comments and opinions.

    I don’t have any really helpful tangible advice, and I apologize, but I think having your supervisors support can make a world of difference in this situation. If I were Beth, I would be so mortified that my coworkers thought I was racist. I would be over analyzing everything I do and say, and I would find support from my boss so valuable.

    Thanks for the follow up in the comments.

    1. Jade

      Agreed. I think it’s great he has decided to go to bat for an employee he believes in, whether others agree with him or not.

    2. Stellaaaaa

      It’s because he keeps flatly saying that Beth isn’t racist and offering up “evidence” that they ended up hiring someone who was not white but also not black. Those aren’t defenses for the words that Beth actually said, nor does it have anything to do with whether Beth has a problem with specifically black people. We can parse it like, “Was Beth deliberately cruel and racist? Probably not. But did she say something off the cuff that sounded racist and now needs to be dealt with? Yes.” I don’t see how it would be helpful to just toss the whole thing aside by validating Henry’s assertion that Beth isn’t racist. It’s like he wants to be able to “come back” at Beth’s accusers with strong evidence that the case should be thrown out, like he only wants to hear his one ideal response for this situation. He doesn’t seem to want to grapple with the actual reality of what’s going on. You can’t deny that Beth said something that sounds insensitive, and that needs to be acknowledged. Henry needs to acknowledge that and, as Beth’s superior, have a conversation with her about it. Henry shouldn’t be approaching this mess with the attitude of “Beth isn’t racist so I just want to look for a way to argue that her comments aren’t problematic.” They are. They just are. You can’t argue against that reality.

      1. AD

        That’s a complete misrepresentation of Henry’s comments. This has been the most demoralizing comments section that I’ve seen on AAM.

        1. Stellaaaaa

          I mean, no disrespect to Henry, but my take on the situation is that he’s not addressing the thing that many of us have pinpointed as the problem. It doesn’t matter if Beth isn’t racist. She is now wrapped up in something racist. Shouting “but she’s not racist!” into the wind doesn’t make it go away.

          It also doesn’t help that so many pertinent details were withheld from the initial letter, only to trickle out under a username that doesn’t have “OP” or “LW” in it even though he has been asked to add that in. Many people don’t read entire huge comments sections before having their say. They read the letter as it was and then commented. I don’t think that’s disheartening. Henry’s email wasn’t clear, and he only stepped in to provide clarification when he started getting responses that he didn’t like.

          1. Anon Anon Anon

            You seem determined to see racism. I find this sad. Also, please stop telling a black man what racism is. I’m sure he knows.

            1. Stellaaaaa

              Well no. When people ask Henry, “Don’t you see how the situation in your initial email looks racist?” his response is, “Beth isn’t racist!” He’s not answering that question. He’s so stuck in his defense of Beth that IMO he’s missing the bigger picture.

      2. Amadeo

        Except ‘well-spoken’ as Henry has said, was not pulled out of the air. It was an actual printed requirement of the job. A job description that HR, not Beth, wrote. It sounds like what Beth did in her reasons to reject the candidate to HR was parrot back their own job description to them.

        You are being unreasonable and unfair to the OP.

        1. Stellaaaaa

          I admit that I blanched when Henry started saying, “I’m black so I can vouch that this would never offend another black person.” I apologize for that. But I still maintain that a lot of people have responded without seeing Henry’s clarifications in the comments section.

        2. Czhorat

          I’d be surprised if “Well-spoken” were the language used in a formal job posting.

          If they are, it’s a terrible choice of wording — especially if the expectation is for more highly-formal communications.

          I’d expect “strong verbal communication skills”, “capable of giving oral presentations to a variety of audiences”, or the like, rather than “well-spoken”.

          1. Amadeo

            So you’re doubting the OP when he says that those were the words in the job description that HR wrote? I don’t. I’ve seen them before so it’s not a stretch for me. Heck, I didn’t even know it was supposed to be an insult until now. It’s not hard for me to take him at his word that that was actually what the description said.

          2. Stellaaaaa

            I see it more like….the company has had its @ss handed to them for inadvertently using insensitive language. Instead of saying, “Wow, that hadn’t occurred to us; we’ll watch out for that in the future,” the company-via-Henry is trying to act like it didn’t happen at all. There is absolutely nothing wrong or doubt-able with a scenario in which someone is forced to confront the fact that they use idioms that have roots in problematic places. That is how change is forged. The company should rethink how it words its job ads if the feedback emails are going to accidentally contain racial insults. This thought process is a far cry from assuming that Henry is lying.

          3. Myrin

            The OP confirmed that “well-spoken” was indeed the exact expression used in the job ad in an answer to fposte at 10:53 (which you might not have seen seeing how your comment wasn’t posted too long after that).

          4. Mary Dempster

            “Well spoken” has been in many of the job postings I’ve taken in marketing and customer service. Turns out you can’t call someone who has hundreds of thousands of dollars with your company and ask if he’s “woke”, just like you wouldn’t greet them as “Hey there, daddy-o!”

    3. JS

      I think its important to realize the key question Henry asked is how could he do this in a professional way. No one is disagreeing with Henry on communication skills being part of the job. No one is even disagreeing full stop that the interviewee may have been unprofessional and did not code switch formal and informal properly. However this subject brings up the issue of what is “professionally acceptable” and unacceptable based on culture, race and society and stereotypical connotations that can arise. No one in good conscious can give him advice on how to support Beth professionally if we question if he should be supporting her in this situation at all given minimal details.

      Henry asked for advice so if he truly had a handle on the situation he wouldn’t have, even Allison said “If you’re confident in your read of the situation”. This is definitely a professional situation where you don’t want to fall on the sword without being 1000% sure you are supporting Beth not because you like her and she is a good employee but you know that in this case with all facts, no bias, even subconsciously, was shown. If you do support Beth and Beth ends up getting charged then professionally you will have to deal with the fallout and any perceived mistrust your current co-workers and subordinates may have about you supporting the perpetrator of any perceived racist, sexist, etc remarks in the future. This may cause future issues to go unreported and your professional reputation to be tarnished as well.

  43. JS

    To OP #3 Something I would like to know is how the interviewee even got this feedback? Did she call him out during the interview for not being well-spoken or did he follow up and received this information? If the latter, why wasn’t he given the standard, “I’m sorry you just were not a fit at this time”? The interviewee never usually takes the info as solid criticism and you leave yourself open for rebuttal and dispute. Regardless if Beth has any bias or not this situation was handled poorly. Even if you and every other minority employee can vouch for Beth’s character that doesn’t mean in the one instance she did not act in a discriminatory fashion and if she gave a reason that is deemed discriminatory well then that’s just it right there. Regardless of the outcome your company needs to evaluate how they are giving feedback for interviews.

    1. Amadeo

      According to Henry’s comments, the candidate did not receive this specific feedback. They got a form rejection letter from HR and nothing else. He’s just ‘shaking the tree’ as someone else commented above to see what he can get.

      1. JS

        The candidate felt slighted in some way then by Beth in a racial context to make this claim. Unless you can prove he sues every white HM who doesn’t give him a job, it is belittling and victim blaming to say he is “Shaking a tree” obviously there was something to fall if Beth incriminated herself and gave him even more reason to pursue racial bias with a “not well spoken” comment.

          1. JS

            Are you reading mine? I am saying that the candidate felt he was discriminated against which is why he is filing the claim. Period. You tried to infer that he was “shaking a tree” as in he didn’t have a valid reason to claim this which is belittling.

            I am saying that obviously he had a reason and the fact that unbeknownst to him Beth gave an answer to HR that could be perceived as racial biased is giving his case against her more ammunition.

                1. Amadeo

                  Frankly I don’t see any proof here that Beth has done anything wrong. Most of the folks in this thread have been pretty honest that they wouldn’t hire someone who used such unprofessional language, especially for a communications position. Including other PoC.

                  The only thing I could see here that might have been unfortunate that people are getting stuck on is ‘well-spoken’ which was in the job description that Beth just parroted back to HR (and the candidate never even saw that feedback) and honestly there are enough people commenting saying they didn’t have a flipping clue that it was supposed to be a bad thing that I wouldn’t take that too hard into advisement either.

                  No, I don’t think he has a case. I think it’s frivolous and I trust Henry’s judgment in the matter.

                2. Temperance

                  He filed a suit alleging racism because he didn’t get a job. I don’t understand why so many commenters are reluctant to believe Henry’s take on things, considering he knows Beth and the situation.

                  It’s clear that the company is taking this incredibly seriously, maybe TOO seriously, in fact.

        1. Henry

          The candidate has never seen the comments. They were given by Beth to HR, when she explained why one candidate was chosen and the others were not. The well spoken phrase was included in the job posting and Beth did not pull it out of nowhere when she was giving her explanation to HR so they could sign off on it and make the offer. The lawsuit was filed a month after the interview and at that point the only feedback the candidate received from anyone was the generic HR feedback.

          1. JS

            Right. But my point is #1 The candidate has a reason independent of Beth’s feedback of him why he is filing suit. #2 The feedback Beth gave to HR only works in his favor and gives his case ammunition because she said he wasn’t “well spoken” regardless if it was on the job posting or not. The fact that it was even on the job posting raises further brows even to question discrimination of the positing as well. (I am not saying he knew this prior but now that it is an issue it doesn’t help her case).

        2. Temperance

          Okay, no. We don’t need to prove that this dude sues every single white person who denies him an opportunity in order to show that in this case, he’s likely just seeking cash. I do not think that Beth “incriminated herself” or even did anything wrong, so.

          1. JS

            Then what proof do we have to show we shouldn’t be taking him seriously?? Honestly, you sound more sympathetic to someone being accused of being racist then the person who had racism used against them. Victim blame much?

            1. Temperance

              We have all of the evidence from Henry – the fact that the person who was hired is of African descent, the fact that the man was unquestionably unqualified for the job, and the fact that this guy filed a lawsuit seeking 6 figures in damages based on not getting a job he is not qualified for.

              Yes, I am absolutely more sympathetic to Beth than I am the plaintiff here. There’s no “victim-blaming”, because, frankly, I don’t see the plaintiff as a victim of racism in this instance. Just a money-grubber.

        3. Katie the Fed

          I disagree. Plenty of baseless suits are tossed all the time. And there are people who definitely abuse the system. We don’t have enough information to know if the candidate is abusing the system or has a legitimate grievance.

          1. JS

            My point was unless we can prove he has a history, we should take him seriously though. Proving it is one thing but to dismiss his case from the start is another.

  44. animaniactoo

    Henry/OP#3 – I just wanted to say that I know you’ve felt very piled on here, but if it helps you at all, I am a middle aged (how the fuck did that happen?) white woman who has been involved in fighting racism since I was a small child because that’s how my parents raised me – and while I am sensitive to a lot of potential racist “tells”, I have totally missed the “not well-spoken” one. Without the conversation here today, I would still be somewhat oblivious today even with AAM’s callout on it; because the conversation makes it clear how deeply entrenched this is.

    Towards supporting Beth, I saw in your comments above that she has been suspended without pay. Which REALLY sucks in terms of your company’s handling of this. Given how easy it is to bring suit without merit, penalizing somebody for the mere action of receiving notice of claim is ridiculous. It would be understandable if it appeared that claim had some substantial merit, but in the absence of that – man, I would not want to work at your company. I know you’ve said that this is the first time you’ve been involved in this process, are there ways you can push back at your company about this portion? Advocate for a procedure change going forward, and at least a partial makeup bonus for Beth who is currently stuck with it once the investigation is over and she’s been cleared (as it looks like she should be)?

    1. animaniactoo

      Apologies for the curse – my head reeled a little bit this morning when I realized this was now a factual description of me…

      1. animaniactoo

        Go ahead and delete this whole thing, I reposted below with a different word to keep it out of moderation. Apologies!

  45. Recruit-o-Rama

    As someone who frequently writes rejection feedback into our ATS, I would say that the imprecise way that Beth phrased her feedback is the real issue. I would have said, “used unprofessional slang and addressed me in an overly familiar and unprofessional manner” Rather than using the up for interpretation phrase ” not well spoken”. I don’t see this as a firable offense, I see it as a coaching opportunity.

    OP, I think you’re doing the right thing in supporting your direct report. Good luck to Beth.

    1. Henry

      Beth used words from the job posting and I don’t think it’s fair to punish her or send her for coaching for that. She didn’t pull the words out of the air.

      1. Partly Cloudy

        I’m not replying to this specific comment, just replying for the sake of nesting/formatting.

        I think it’s interesting that so many commenters upthread were quick to assume that Beth is “older” until Henry told us she’s 29. Reverse subconscious bias?

      2. JS

        Wait “well-spoken” was on the job description? or was some interpretation of that like “good communication”? Candidate would still have a case against her but now can say that the job description itself had discriminatory aspects. In terms of clearing Beth, was there a phone interview prior to this? Can anyone else vouch that he spoke this way in a phone interview? If we was “well-spoken” enough for a phone interview but not in-person where racial bias can really take place, that does not bode well for Beth.

          1. Stellaaaaa

            That makes it less Beth’s problem, but now more of a company-wide one. If there’s anyone with brains behind the wheel, they’d have realized that using “well-spoken” in a job ad would result in someone inevitably being called “not well-spoken.”

            IMO the fact that this was all an accident doesn’t invalidate the applicant’s claim. In fact, it makes it look like the biases are entrenched within the whole company, not just with Beth. At best, the company comes off as very backward-leaning and not willing to accept constructive criticism. We no longer say that someone “gypped” us out of money. We’re learning to be more careful about throwing around mental health terms (crazy, OCD) as generic insults. This company needs to start filtering for careless language.

          1. Katie the Fed

            So, just something you might want to keep in mind in the future since this is your department – we’re required to do interviews by panels. And ideally you want a fairly diverse panel. But having more people there definitely helps if you have to defend against a charge of discrimination.

          1. animaniactoo

            Oh Geez. At this point, I would suggest that you might also be willing to be a strong reference for Beth if she chooses to look elsewhere, and make that clear to her.

            The way she’s being treated by the company is horrifyingly awful, especially in a world where many many people even at her level of white collar are still living pretty much paycheck-to-paycheck.

            1. AnonAnalyst

              Agreed with all of this. Henry, you seem like a supportive manager and I commend you for writing in and sticking around to try to see if there is anything else you can do to help Beth. But your company’s approach to this situation is bananas, and at this point the most helpful thing you can do may be to help Beth find a job somewhere else.

              Good luck to both of you! This is a tough and crappy situation all around.

      3. Recruit-o-Rama

        I don’t think she should be punished, and coaching is not punishment, it’s development. I believe you when you say that Beth isn’t racist, I just think she didn’t realize that “not well spoken” can come across a very coded, even if it’s not her intention and even if “well spoken” is in the job description. Using precise feedback is one way to avoid the exact kind of situation she is facing now. Providing training about hiring and language in hiring is an important part of career development for individuals involved in the hiring process and I certainly don’t mean “coaching” in a negative way, I’m sorry if I came across that way. I regularly explain EEOC issues to hiring managers who I work with and it is to protect them, the company and to make sure that our practices are not impacting protected classes. I think you are coming at this from a well intentioned place, I’m just providing my perspective since I am part of the hiring process daily. People don’t know what they don’t know until they know it.

  46. Alex "Barney" Barnaby

    From what I am gathering from yesterday’s and today’s hiring comments, most of the commenters here think it’s completely kosher to not hire a woman because she’s pretty and thin, but think that it’s disgusting and racist to not hire someone who calls the interviewer “dog.”

    Pray tell, what would happen if a white manager refused to hire a gorgeous, slim black woman who used racial slang?!?

        1. Czhorat

          This is borderline argumentative, but show me one poster who took both of those two positions.

          And quite honestly, I don’t see *anyone* here who said “it’s OK for an interviewee to refer to the interviewer as ‘dog'”.

    1. fposte

      Nobody thought that was okay yesterday, and nobody thinks that’s true today.

      I can’t tell if you’re being deliberately hyperbolic to be dismissive or not, but just in case you’re genuinely struggling here: yesterday we prioritized avoiding a self-congratulatory pile-on of telling somebody to her virtual face that she was horrible, since that wouldn’t have improved the situation for an OP who already knew she was wrong. Today we’re pointing out that even if you make the right call, that doesn’t guarantee it’s free of racism or that it isn’t close enough to something that looks like racism to raise eyebrows.

      In both cases, what I think you’re missing is that we really want a deeper conversation, not a reductive hero vs. villain narrative. We’ll never be completely free of the latter, but if you’re reading yesterday’s and today’s discussions as simply who’s in the wrong and who can get blamed, you’re missing a lot.

    2. Stellaaaaa

      I honestly thought yesterday’s comment thread was way too permissive toward that OP, but People Of The Internet (of which I am one) tend to be more forgiving toward people who present their narratives in the context of mental and emotional health. It’s something I filter for.

      1. Leatherwings

        Yeah, I don’t think that’s the main reason why people were being permissive. It’s because piling on the LW there and continually telling her she was wrong when she already acknowledged that upfront wasn’t in anyway helpful and got to be kind of cruel.

        1. Stellaaaaa

          People were definitely giving her a pass on the bullying because she admitted to having other issues. I’m not going to comment further on this.

          1. Elizabeth H.

            I know you said you’re not going to comment further, but I have the impression that I tend to feel the same way as you about much of the internet attitude toward mental/emotional health (why I don’t enjoy the Captain Awkward site that many others seem to). HOWEVER I feel like I would have felt the same way about piling on the OP from yesterday even if she didn’t make any reference to mental health or anything.

            Like the guy who charged a huge debt on his company credit card. He was in this awful situation and didn’t make reference to mental health, and people were understanding and supportive of his desire to make things right even though he knew he had done something really wrong. It seems similar to me, though maybe not to everyone.

            1. Leatherwings

              Yeah, I thought it was pretty much exactly the same situation as that, actually. Someone acknowledged upfront that the situation was bad and they knew exactly how bad it was. There was no need to impress upon the OP exactly how bad it was because it wasn’t helpful or necessary. They needed practical advice on next steps not a talking-to.

      2. Grits McGee

        People also tend to be more forgiving toward those who recognize that their behavior is wrong and are actively trying to correct it.

    3. Leatherwings

      You’re being deliberately obtuse here. This is not what most commenters were saying in either thread and huge generalizations and hostility like this is pretty out of step with the discussion AAM cultivates here.

  47. Amadeo

    OP#3/Henry – since Beth is being suspended without pay, is it possible for you and perhaps a group of her supporters to slip her something like a Visa gift card for the time being? Or bring her groceries? Especially since there seems to be not much more you can do to support her at work than you have already done.

    I agree with the others that if/when she comes back she’s definitely going to need your help getting her confidence back re:hiring especially. She’s going to be very shy of it for a while, I’m sure!

  48. animaniactoo

    Henry/OP#3 – I just wanted to say that I know you’ve felt very piled on here, but if it helps you at all, I am a middle aged (how the hell did that happen?) white woman who has been involved in fighting racism since I was a small child because that’s how my parents raised me – and while I am sensitive to a lot of potential racist “tells”, I have totally missed the “not well-spoken” one. Without the conversation here today, I would still be somewhat oblivious today even with AAM’s callout on it; because the conversation makes it clear how deeply entrenched this is.

    Towards supporting Beth, I saw in your comments above that she has been suspended without pay. Which REALLY sucks in terms of your company’s handling of this. Given how easy it is to bring suit without merit, penalizing somebody for the mere action of receiving notice of claim is ridiculous. It would be understandable if it appeared that claim had some substantial merit, but in the absence of that – man, I would not want to work at your company. I know you’ve said that this is the first time you’ve been involved in this process, are there ways you can push back at your company about this portion? Advocate for a procedure change going forward, and at least a partial makeup bonus for Beth who is currently stuck with it once the investigation is over and she’s been cleared (as it looks like she should be)?

    1. Partly Cloudy

      Yeah, the suspended without pay is abhorrent, especially given the info that Henry has provided. The company is really shooting themselves in the foot by making an example of Beth like this. I understand if they wanted to suspend her during the investigation in order to cover their butts for the lawsuit, but it shouldn’t be without pay and it’s extra terrible that she won’t get the missed pay if (hopefully WHEN) the company wins the lawsuit.

      1. Anons

        I’d encourage Beth to apply for unemployment benefits to at least get something if this suspension is dragging out. :-(

      2. AnonAnalyst

        Yeah, especially given the update that 1) someone else in the company wrote the job description that included “well spoken,” and 2) Beth was required to provide a reason for passing on each candidate. I feel for Beth, because it really does sound like the company is trying to make an example out of her after basically creating the mess that made this candidate question the company’s hiring practices (and honestly, if the feedback to the candidate was that he was “not well spoken” and he then saw that a white person was hired, I can see why he might attribute racial bias to that).

        Frankly, I wonder if Beth will even want to continue working for this company once her unpaid suspension is over.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago

          If I worked for the company and saw all this happening, I would definitely be looking elsewhere.

        2. AnonAnalyst

          And after reading more of Henry’s comments that I somehow missed before, I see that the candidate wasn’t even given this feedback, so it sounds like he is just throwing things at the wall to see what sticks and Beth is caught in the crossfire. So now I am really wondering if Beth will want to continue working there…

  49. Sue Wilson

    #3: I would never in my life use “dog” “bae” or “fleek” in a white collar interview. I might use “woke” however in a very limited context. Ultimately, I think Beth made the right decision, but because there was a more qualified candidate, and even if you accept these words as professional in certain context, they are extremely familiar for an interview (I’d find them disrespectful, you don’t know me well enough to call me “dog”)

    But (as whether or not she did something racist):
    1) Her work in Africa and her grandparent are irrelevant (side note: it’s really interesting that Beth sees herself as white; so many people I know like that see themselves as mixed).
    2) Her hiring of another non-white person is irrelevant, unless they were also black.
    3) You being black is irrelevant.

    (as to what’s going to matter in an actual lawsuit)
    1) Her hiring of another non-white person is irrelevant, unless they were also black.

    What worries me is not ultimately the rightness of Beth’s decision, but that you seem to think exceptionalism or familiarity disproves racism or that it is transitive through races. None of the above is the contextual help you think it is, and your further, more relevant, details, like that communication is a key part part of the job, in the comments but not in your question, suggest that you were trying to disprove racism was a factor at all, rather than that Beth’s decision was made according to relevant criteria, and that’s telling. I would consider that just because there wasn’t a problem here, doesn’t mean you would notice if there was.

    I think it’s tough that Beth has been suspended without pay, and I think it’s a good idea to talk to her about your support. But avoid generalizing about racism specifically as much as possible. “I’ve always seen you behave with integrity and compassion toward everyone you meet and I’m standing behind you” is fine.

    1. Henry

      I said Beth is white because she is fair, and has red hair, green eyes and freckles. Her other 3 grandparents all had red hair and are of Irish decent. She doesn’t look mixed in the slightest.

      The successful candidate has a Kenyan name. I don’t want to guess and anyones nationality or ethnicity unless they tell me (as Beth did) but I would guess that they are black.

      I brought up my race and those other things to give context to a wider area outside of this issue.

    2. MathOwl

      I don’t really agree. Henry provides information that does give us context into why people aren’t blaming Beth. He has seen Beth behaving in ways that suggest she is not racist before, and she apparently has done nothing this time to break that pattern by rejecting a candidate that was totally out of line in the context of a formal interview.

    3. Trout 'Waver

      That’s awfully harsh towards the letter writer. The question focuses on a false racism accusation by a rejected candidate. That Beth isn’t perceived as racist by her minority coworkers is pertinent information supporting the claim that the accusation is false.

      I also find it ironic that you mistakenly assumed things about Beth when making this post.

      1. Stellaaaaa

        What I’m seeing is that people are getting caught up in the gap between the actual truth and the PR problem. Beth probably isn’t racist. However, saying, “She has a black grandma and lots of black friends!” is sort of the worst way to present that fact. We’re all in agreement that Beth was somewhat victimized by the wording of the original job ad. However, that doesn’t negate the fact that a black man received an email stating that he was not well-spoken. Why are people denying how bad that looks for the company? Companies deal with bad PR all the time – many of those problems arise accidentally and as a consequence of stacked misunderstandings, just like this situation.

        Lots of us took for granted that Beth isn’t racist and jumped right into discussing how to deal with the company’s current image problem. So we’re saying, “Don’t you see how the company looks really bad right now?” and we’re getting responses of, “But Beth isn’t racist!” We’re asking a question that some people are trying really hard not to answer.

        1. Amadeo

          He did not receive an email telling him he was not well-spoken. He got a form rejection letter and that’s it.

          1. Stellaaaaa

            Okay, now I’m confused by the sequence of events. After reading through as many updates as I have the patience for, I was under the impression that Beth wrote the rejection email by going through the job ad point-by-point.

            I’m starting to see how this got so garbled. An initially vague yet straightforward-seeming email to Alison elicited a certain response. Henry realized that he had left out crucial information after people had already developed an impression of the scenario. Even now, new kernels of info are popping up. This isn’t a case where there was just one 11th-hour update. The details are still trickling in because it didn’t occur to Henry that his initial email would be taken a certain way.

            When a bunch of people independently draw the same conclusion (even if it’s an incorrect conclusion) you need to accept that your manner of relaying your story hasn’t been effective. Perhaps this could be useful feedback for how Henry stands up for Beth going forward? Or it could be a useful reflection of why the company’s methods aren’t working – if this is how they’re presenting Beth’s story….ooooooh lordy. I’m honestly very surprised that Henry submitted the question that he did, in the form that he did, and doesn’t seem to understand why so many people are having the same initial reaction.

            1. Amadeo

              I’ll agree that when I read the letter I did think it was a bit of a comment bomb waiting to happen and I see I wasn’t disappointed. I think he was just trying to be succinct in his story to keep it short and maybe himself (like plenty of others, including myself) simply wasn’t aware that ‘well-spoken’ was a problem phrase for lots of people. Maybe he was hoping that the fact that the candidate used such familiar language with his interviewer would have stood on it’s own.

            2. Trout 'Waver

              Why yes, it is the letter writer’s fault that you misread the letter.

              The letter writer didn’t write in to ask if Beth is a racist, he wrote in to ask how to support Beth.

              1. Leatherwings

                And some of the advice has been that his initial complete and total defense of Beth wasn’t maybe accurate and he might need to take a step back and think about the way this was all framed IN ADDITION to supporting her/coaching her through this. I think that’s totally valid.

                It wasn’t a misreading of the letter that was an issue, it was the way in which the story and its details were conveyed the got at an issue deeper than maybe Henry/OP realized.

        2. Detective Amy Santiago

          The applicant didn’t get that information. He got a form rejection letter from HR that didn’t give any specific reason and decided to file a discrimination suit.

        3. Roscoe

          But that has 0 to do with what the OP is asking. He isn’t an HR person asking how to deal with the optics. He is asking how to be supportive of someone he believes was unfairly called racist.

    4. Miss Ann Thrope

      I was also surprised at Beth (it’s not clear to me if OP sees her as white and/or Beth identifies as white) because of the history of Blacks in the US, and the “one drop rule” a Black grandparent means you’re Black. There are a lot of people who can “pass” for white but are still Black (see a not necessarily great discussion of colorism on Real Housewives of Potomac)

      1. Nichelle

        Just above OP stated that Beth is fair skinned with red hair, green eyes and freckles. Even with a black grandparent, her other 3 white grandparents have red hair.

        Why are you surprised at Beth?

  50. Henry

    I said Beth was white because she is fair, and has red hair, green eyes and freckles. Her other 3 grandparents all had red hair and are of Irish decent. She doesn’t look mixed in the slightest.

    The successful candidate has a Kenyan name. I don’t want to guess and anyones nationality or ethnicity unless they tell me (as Beth did) but I would guess that they are black.

    I brought up my race and those other things to give context to a wider area outside of this issue.

  51. SenatorMeathooks

    I believe the OP in #3, but using the term “well-spoken” have heavy connotations linked to it, whether the employee means it or not. If she had trouble with understanding the slang and felt it was unprofessional, then that’s all that should be said. Hopefully this wasn’t placed in writing to the candidate.

  52. I'm Not Phyllis

    I’m going to give Beth the benefit of the doubt and say that she’s (probably) not racist and that she (probably) didn’t know that what she was saying was wrong. But it still was. If I’m understanding this correctly, the former candidate doesn’t know that she gave this as a reason for not hiring him, but that this reason was given to HR after he had filed his complaint – is this correct? If so, then your HR department is concerned about the racial undertones of what she said as well as the former candidate. Like I said I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt and assuming that she isn’t racist – still she should have framed her responses to HR differently. One question that I do have – was she the only employee doing the interview? My workplace has a policy of having at least two interviewers so that it doesn’t become an issue of “he said/she said.” Just something to think about if it’s not already a practice.

    For what it’s worth, I think your organization is handling this investigation poorly (though I understand that’s not really in your control). Her reputation at your company has been permanently damaged by this, no matter what the outcome is, and if the investigation turns out not to have further merit, I wonder what recourse she has against the company. In any case, I think you should let the investigation play out, and then offer her a reference because it will be very difficult for her to continue under her current employment.

    1. Henry

      The comments to HR were given after the interview. In every hiring process the hiring manager is required to explain why each candidate was rejected or selected. Beth used the wording in the job posting to explain why. The lawsuit was filed a month after the interview. She was the only employee doing the interview.

      Thank you. will give her a glowing reference if she ever needs it. I wish there was more I could do but like you said it’s out of my control.

  53. emma2

    #3: Well, this is awkward. I can see how the situation seems racist on the outside. However, based on the details shared by the OP, I don’t see how those words would be appropriate to use in an interview. Also, I don’t know how much that type of slang is slang of POC or of younger people in general. And is interacting with clients/customers an important part of the job? If not, and he is actually competent, then I could see this being a bit biased. It would sound more suspicious if she just vaguely considered him as “less of a fit” compared to white/non-black candidates (something that happens a lot in the consulting world…and all small-medium sized consulting firms just coincidentally end up with all white employees.)

    1. Mary Dempster

      I agree, I am so confused as to how using 100% inappropriate for work slang that may have started with POCs, but now are used by white 14 year old girls country wide, is not a valid reason for not hiring someone for a COMMUNICATIONS job.

      I would have had the same reaction if it was a guy who said “Hey dude! That’s so totally tubular!” – which is hardcore old white dude slang.

      I know there’s a history of the phrase” well spoken” with POC, but …. this guy didn’t sound well spoken at ALL. And that is a thing, you know, based on your communication skills, not your race.

  54. Katie the Fed

    I’m amused by the image of Alison coming home from a nice relaxing morning at the gym or whatever and logging into AAM to see nearly 700 comments on this post.

    Alison – thanks for letting this get a little away from what the LW asked – I think it’s actually been educational for quite a few people.

      1. Nichelle

        It wasn’t respectful to the OP. He was told he had not experienced any racial bias. People didn’t listen to what he posted or his responses and there were attempts by (some, not all) white people to educate him or explain to him what racism and racial bias are. I posted about it up thread. I’m a WOC and I found the responses the opposite of respectful, but rather troubling and patronizing.

        1. Amadeo

          It’s bothering me too, and I am white. I don’t like the way some folks have ignored Henry, ignored lurking (who identified themselves as a PoC) and several other people who are not white in order to explain how exactly you, as PoC should be feeling about or perceiving this situation because reasons.

        2. Leatherwings

          I really disagree. I thought it was largely constructive. There’s a difference between having a conversation about the language he and/or Beth used and saying “hey this isn’t coming across the way you want it to or think it is and the words that are being used are loaded” and calling him a racist or wrong.

          Also, I don’t know how you think you know all the people responding were white, so that’s probably an unfair assumption.

    1. fposte

      And for those who have missed it: the OP has clarified that nothing was said to the candidate, and Beth was merely reflecting the exact terminology of the job posting.

  55. Also A Racist

    Re#3: Let’s all just be honest here. Everything everyone does is because they’re racist. In spite of everything the OP shared with us and the established tradition of taking the LW’s word, Beth is racist. And because she’s racist, it’s okay this time around to pile on the OP and question them, make assumptions, and generally avoid the crux of his question, because racists don’t deserve the courtesy of being given consideration. Also, in this instance, Allison will stay away from stepping into the comments and trying to put a stop to it. Because racist.

    Look, I love this blog. I’ve used much of the advice in my career and shared it with my teams and peers alike, and that includes the comments. But this place (the comment section) is starting to sound like parody skit of a SJW rally. You can poo-poo my opinion as much as you’d like and tell me to just stop reading, but I’m honestly saying this because I think the value of Ask A Manager is degrading as this sort of thing continues, and I’d hate to lose what I’ve historically found so valuable.

    So, have at it, call me a racist, do your worst. After a morning’s worth of comments on this topic though, I just couldn’t keep silent.

    1. Katie the Fed

      I feel like you’re being deliberately obtuse here for the sake of it.

      Most of the commenters have said that they didn’t think Beth was being intentionally racist. Henry came in and provided more information that supported that claim.

      However – many of us have also tried to point out that words and phrases can have meanings and baggage that can inadvertently lend credence to claims of discrimination, and that people should be aware of those pitfalls. What is this blog if not for educating people on potential pitfalls in the workplace?

      1. Mary Dempster

        What is the difference between “racist’ and “unintentionally racist” when someone was using incredibly obnoxious slang that frankly drives me up a wall, and I’m Beth’s age, and just happens to be black? At what point does ‘well spoken’ or ‘not well spoken’ actually mean those things to people?

        1. Katie the Fed

          I don’t know what’s not coming through here:

          I don’t think Beth was racist.

          HOWEVER, the language that was used to describe the hiring action is racially loaded. When the company is confronted with a potential lawsuit by someone complaining that he didn’t get hired because of illegal discrimination, they are going to pull the hiring records. The way it was framed in the explanation does not look good and could potentially expose the company to liability, so they’re concerned now and investigating. I don’t think Beth should be suspended at all, but I also think she probably should have thought through the words she used a little better.

          1. Mary Dempster

            So that questions remains – at what point will “well spoken” actually mean “well spoken”? I know I’m just a 29 year old white girl too, but I’ve never heard that those words were racially loaded. In fact, I’m thinking back to this one guy I worked with years ago, who was so beautifully eloquent, and I told him so. He was black – I’m hoping he was able to see that I actually wanted to call him “well spoken” because he was! And for a 20 year old at the time, that was rare, regardless or race. I think it’s insane to suspend someone or even say that she should have re-thought her words that are 90% of the time used accurately, and were in the job description itself.

    2. Stellaaaaa

      I haven’t seen anyone saying Beth is a 100% racist dirtbag who deserves to lose her job and her house and her dog. We’re saying that it LOOKS racist, and that the image problem is the thing that really needs to be dealt with. We’ve all watched Mad Men, we know how this goes. Accusing us of calling Beth racist is borderline gaslighting. Literally no one has said she was racist. We said she accidentally did a racially charged thing and now the company looks racist from the outside. I don’t see how it’s helpful to expect people to answer for insulting Beth in a way that we simply haven’t.