Employer May Establish Qualifications for Promotional Decisions


An employee’s belief that she was better qualified than the successful candidate was not determinative, according to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

In Robertson v. State of Wisconsin, the employee had complained of discrimination by her director, which was verified through an investigation. The director resigned, and the employee, who was named the acting director, subsequently applied for the position. Another candidate was selected, and the employee sued, alleging that her non-selection was retaliation for her discrimination complaint.

The Seventh Circuit rejected her contention that she was “objectively the most qualified candidate.” Although the employee had certain experience relevant to the position, which the other candidate lacked, the employer asserted that the successful candidate had superior educational qualifications, and demonstrated vision and the ability to lead – qualities that the employer was seeking and that were demonstrated by the successful candidate in the course of the interview process. The Seventh Circuit noted that the employee’s own perception of her qualifications were not determinative unless there could be no reasonable dispute that she was better qualified, which was not the case here. The Seventh Circuit noted that it would not “second guess an employer’s facially legitimate business decision.”

This case reiterates the principle that the employer may establish the legitimate requirements for a position and determine who is the best-qualified candidate.