The University of Missouri School of Law is committed to the principle of equal employment opportunities for all of its students and graduates, commensurate with their abilities and not limited by invidious discrimination, including discrimination based on race, sex, age, religion, color, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, status as a veteran, or any other basis forbidden by applicable law or university regulation. The Law School may restrict or refuse services to any employer whose conduct is determined to have violated this policy, regardless of whether the conduct occurred on campus or elsewhere, during the recruiting process, or during summer or other employment of a law student, including employment as an intern or extern. Complaint procedures have been established to provide a means for students who believe an employer has violated the Non-Discrimination Policy to bring the alleged conduct to the attention of the Law School. Notwithstanding the foregoing, based on current federal law and regulations, (the Solomon Amendment) the School is compelled to allow the military to recruit our students on campus or risk the loss of federal funding.
Interviewers may and should ask novel or unusual interview questions to gauge a candidate’s analytical ability, professional demeanor, legal or academic experience, or other business-related skills. However, such questioning should not be used to elicit information regarding an applicant’s race, gender, marital/parental status, age, religion, color, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, or veteran status.
What is an inappropriate question?
Where do you attend church? Do you plan to have children? Is this your maiden name or your married name? Did you grow up speaking Spanish at home? These may seem like innocent questions, a way for an interviewer to get to know you better. However, questions like these may be used by a prospective employer to illegally obtain information about your private life or personal beliefs. For example, it is entirely appropriate for an employer to be concerned about your commitment to your job, and the employer can certainly inquire about this. It is not appropriate, however, for an employer to ask about your marital status or what your spouse does, and then make assumptions regarding your work commitment based on your response.
Because these distinctions are often subtle, please ask for guidance from someone in the Career Development Office if you have any questions about what is and is not appropriate for a prospective employer to ask. The Missouri Commission on Human Rights also publishes a list of questions that may and may not be asked during a job interview.
Why do interviewers ask inappropriate questions?
At some point in your job search, it is likely that you will be asked an inappropriate question. The motives for asking these questions vary. Some interviewers, while having good intentions, are careless or ignorant. He or she may make an inaccurate assumption based on a stereotype, and then ask a question or make a comment in an attempt to establish a rapport based on that stereotype. For example, an interviewer may ask an African-American man what sports he plays, on the assumption that African–American men are good at sports, or make a favorable comment on a woman’s appearance, believing that women like to be complimented. Others may ask an inappropriate question in an attempt to establish some commonality. An interviewer with children may ask about the applicant’s children, for instance. Others may consciously or unconsciously harbor prejudices or biases against certain categories of people.
What can you do?
- Avoid asking personal questions of the interviewer or commenting on his or her private life. For example, if you see a picture in the interviewer’s office that appears to be of his or her children, do not ask how old they are or where they go to school. This can open the door to a conversation you may not want to have.
- Consider whether to include information on your resume that reveals personal or private information. This also could lead to a conversation with an interviewer that you would prefer not to have.
- Before the interview, anticipate what questions of an illegal or inappropriate nature you may most likely be asked. Consider and practice possible responses.
- If you are asked an inappropriate question, you may choose to answer it, if you feel comfortable doing so, with an appropriately neutral response, such as: “Yes, I am fortunate to have geographic flexibility with respect to my career” (when asked about family relocation). You may be able to deflect the question politely: “My work ethic has always been that my personal life stays at home, and when I am at work, I focus on doing my work” (when asked about sexual orientation, religion, marital/parental status, etc.). Depending on the question, you may be able to change the topic of conversation “That reminds me, I noticed your firm’s commitment to diversity on the website. Can you tell me a little more about the volunteer service it does with the local schools?” (when asked about national origin, race, ethnicity, etc.). Or put the question back on the interviewer “How would you describe your organization’s culture with respect to diversity?” Stay professional and remember that not every inappropriate question is motivated by a bad intent.
- If asked an inappropriate question, you may also choose to attempt to discern what the underlying concern may be, and whether it is job-related. “Are you concerned that my [veteran status, possible disability, marital status, religious beliefs, race, sexual orientation, etc.] would affect my ability to perform in this position?” Most employers should be savvy enough to say no and move on, but if not, you can follow up with something like: “I can assure you that my [ethnicity, sexual orientation, childcare situation, physical ability, etc.] will not be a problem.”
- You may also choose to politely refuse to answer an inappropriate question;
- End the interview;
- File a complaint with the Career Development Office;
- File a lawsuit.
Federal and state laws prohibit workplace discrimination, including harassment, because of race, color, national origin, sex (including pregnancy), religion, disability, or age (age 40 or older). Some state and local laws also prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Harassment can occur in a wide variety of circumstances, and by a wide variety of people. The harasser could be your manager or supervisor, a co-worker, or even a client. However, not all offensive or inappropriate behavior is illegal harassment. In order for the conduct to be considered illegal, it must be unwanted, and so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment. Depending on the severity and frequency, illegal harassment can include off-putting jokes or comments, ridicule, insults, epithets and slurs, as well as physical assaults, intimidation, and threats. Exposing someone to offensive objects or pictures can also be considered illegal harassment.
Victims of workplace harassment are encouraged to inform the harasser directly that the conduct is unwelcome and should cease. Harassment should also be reported to management. Many employers have procedures in place for reporting harassment, and these should be reviewed and followed. The Law School also encourages anyone who has witnessed or been the victim of workplace harassment while a law student to file a complaint with the Career Development Office.
Any student who believes he or she has been subjected to, or has witnessed, illegal discrimination or offensive conduct by an employer or prospective employer, whether on campus or elsewhere, during the recruiting process, or during summer or other employment while a law student, including employment as an intern or extern, is encouraged to complete an Employer Complaint Form (PDF) and file this with the Career Development Office. Students are encouraged to submit a Complaint Form as soon as possible after the alleged incident of misconduct. Delay in filing a Complaint Form can impede the ability of the Law School to investigate the incident and appropriately respond.
Upon receipt of an Employer Complaint Form, the Assistant Dean of Admissions, Career Development and Student Services will contact the student to discuss the incident reported. When meeting with the Assistant Dean, the student may request that no further action be taken and that the Complaint Form simply remains on file with the Law School for future reference. Nonetheless, at the discretion of the Assistant Dean, the Complaint Form may be presented to the Dean of the Law School, and, depending on the nature of the incident, further action may be taken. If this is decided, the Assistant Dean will notify the student of the decision and will work with the student to maintain the student’s anonymity.
Upon receipt of a Complaint Form, the Assistant Dean will work to address the matter as expeditiously as possible. The Assistant Dean, in consultation with the Dean of the Law School, will review the incident and Complaint Form and may, if deemed appropriate, initiate an investigation of the facts of the incident. In deciding whether to complete an investigation and what action to take, the Assistant Dean and the Dean will consider any factor he or she deems relevant, including, the nature of the conduct, whether the conduct is isolated or part of a pattern, and the extent of any remedial measures initiated by the employer.
After completion of the review and investigation process, the Law School may decide to:
- Take no action.
- Maintain a record of the complaint, but not contact the employer directly or take any further action.
- Bring the event to the employer’s attention, and if appropriate, ask the employer what measures it has taken or will take to address the situation.
- Prohibit the employer from interviewing at the Law School, posting a job opening at with the Law School, or otherwise using the Law School’s facilities for a prescribed period of time.
- Adopt any other action deemed reasonable and appropriate by the Committee.
The ultimate decision of what action, if any, to take, will be made by the Dean of the Law School after consultation with the Assistant Dean of Admissions, Career Development and Student Services.
No attorney-client relationship is created between the Law School, or any of its employees, and a student who brings a complaint alleging employer misconduct. The Law School shall have sole and absolute discretion to determine how to proceed when a complaint is filed. The complaint procedures provided for herein shall not limit the right of a student to pursue any remedy available to the student under the law.