Ethics Quiz: The Race-Based Job Interview Question

I think I know where I come out on this, but I may be wrong. Let’s see what you think…

Donna Johnston, a licensed social worker, said she was interviewing to teach sociology at Bridgewater State University in Connecticut last summer when she was asked by her interviewer to contemplate and defend her “white privilege” and told that “black students may not be able to relate” to her because of it. She took the questioning to mean that she had to defend being white, and alleges in a law suit that her “whiteness” cost her the job.

Johnston’s lawyer says that “If somebody had said to a black applicant, ‘let’s talk about your blackness, or how does your blackness affect something,’ there’d be outrage.” Yes, I think that’s a fair assumption. But the school claims, in its defense, that their questioning was appropriate as a way to give Johnston an “opportunity to show … how she would use her experience and teaching skills to overcome a common obstacle as a social worker and teacher.”

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Interview Ethics: Sabotaging A Job Candidate, With A Kavanaugh Hearing Flashback

Frequent commenter and old friend Vinnymick flagged this one, thus proving that someone took my recent appeal for out-of-the-way ethics topics seriously. He pointed me to a Washington Post article, which lays out its topic thusly:

“While browsing Twitter recently, I came across a post that suggested an innovative interview technique: Take a job candidate out for a lunch interview, then secretly ask the server to intentionally mess up the candidate’s order. The purported goal: to see the candidate’s true nature. “It’s easy to say how you would handle when things go wrong, [but] hard to fake your reaction as it happens,” the post concluded.”

Or, as another type of sabotage, have an old high school colleague of the interviewee sit down at the table and accuse him of sexual assault. Then observe how he reacts to that!

The Kavanaugh debacle came to mind immediately, in part because so many who rationalized the Democrats’ abuse of Justice (now, judge then) Kavanaugh was that it was a “job interview.” No, it wasn’t, as I repeatedly had to explain to people (but, you know, when progressives are in the process of a Trump-related freak-out, you can’t explain anything to them(, in a real, fair and professional job interview, the interviewer hasn’t already decided that he or she doesn’t want to hire you, as nearly every single Democrat regarded Kavanaugh before the hearings began . In a job interview, you are being interviewed by your potential supervisors and those who you will be working with if you are hired. The Supreme Court doesn’t report to the Senate, take orders from the Senate, or work with the Senate. In a job interview, there is a presumption of good faith between the job seeker and the interviewer. No, the Kavanaugh hearings were a transparent effort to sabotage the  judge’s nomination from the outset.

Now back to the article’s hypothetical: Of course pulling a stunt like the one described is unethical. An earlier Ethics Alarms essay on “silly job interview ethics”—it’s pretty good, I must say, and I had completely forgotten that I wrote it— recommended that if an interviewer starts abusing you, and this is abuse, excuse yourself, saying, “I’m sorry. I was under the impression that I was applying for a position with an organization that respected serious professionals, and that would never exploit the interview process for its own amusement at the discomfort of someone who expected fair and courteous treatment. I apparently was mistaken.”

I added,

I think the use of odd interview questions is a symptom of an arrogant and essentially untrustworthy corporate culture. There may exceptions, but I don’t believe it’s worth the gamble. If the interviewer starts messing with your emotions and confidence, tell him or her to cut it out, or better yet, leave.

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An Untrustworthy Study About Perceptions Of Untrustworthiness That Shows Something Else Entirely

Research is frequently polluted by confirmation bias; personally, I believe this is the case more often than not. A particularly vivid example is the work on “vocal fry,” described as “slowly fluttering the vocal cords, resulting in a popping or creaking sound at the bottom of the vocal register.” Supposedly a 2011 study determined that two-thirds of college women were doing it, and now a paper by Rindy C. Anderson, Casey A. Klofstad , William J. Mayew, and Mohan Venkatachalam announces the results of further research showing how harmful it is. I admit: I’ve now read a lot of stuff about vocal fry, which I had never heard of until recently, and I’m still unclear on exactly what the hell it is, other than “talking in an annoying fashion.” The Atlantic tells us that this is vocal fry, which means it consists of talking like Zooey Deschanel does here:

Got it? OK, now you can explain it to me.

Anyway, what the exact phenomenon is doesn’t matter to the ethics issue; all you have to know is that a respected, serious, scholarly study has spawned lots of media attention by claiming that its data shows that women and men who exhibit vocal fry in their speech patterns will tend to be hired less often than job interviewees who don’t, because employers view them as untrustworthy, among other things. (The study’s catchy title is “Vocal Fry May Undermine the Success of Young Women in the Labor Market,” because, as we know, women are all that matter these days, having had war declared on them and all.) Continue reading

Ethics Alarms MailBox: “Does The Naked Teacher Principle Apply To Bodybuilding Teachers…or Mothers?”

Bodybuilder mom

Since the NTP is back in the news—Kaitlin Pearson, whom Ethics Alarms dubbed the perfect example of the Naked Teacher Principle, was allowed to continue her job as a teacher’s aide—this is a propitious time to address a question I received off-site by an esteemed reader, who sent me a photo similar to the one above (but of another female competitive bodybuilder/mom—who is 50 years old) and commented, “This is a picture of a local soccer mom with a teenage son. Is she setting a good example for her son, and does her conduct trigger the Naked Teacher Principle?”

Let me finish with Kaitlin first. I personally wouldn’t have let her continue, if only because she was not forthcoming about her other pursuits when she interviewed for the job. That doesn’t mean that the resolution of her particular case is in defiance of the NTP. It states, Continue reading

Kaitlin Pearson: First “Naked Teacher Principle” Subject of 2014, And Maybe The Most Perfect Naked Teacher Example Ever


It’s 2014, and time for the first Naked Teacher Principle controversy. As it happens, this one may be the standard against which all others are judged.

Kaitlin Pearson, a Fitchburg, Massachusetts elementary school teaching assistant in the special education department at South Street Elementary School, was exposed, wait, no…busted….no, sorry, not that, er..outed as a well-publicized nude model when someone sent an anonymous package containing her “elegant implied nude” photos to the principal. (That’s the first thing that jumped into my mind when I saw the photo above, I can tell you; “Now there’s an elegant implied nude photo!”) She’s on paid leave now, and you never know what those wacky school administrators will do, but Kaitlin is most down-the-middle-of-the-alley example of the Naked Teacher Principle in action as I’ve ever seen:

1. She’s a teacher…

2. At an elementary school…

3. Who has her photo taken in mostly naked and sexually suggestive poses…

4. Has them posted on the web, where they are easily accessed under her name….

5. Has posted many of them herself….

6. Never alerted her employers to her alternate vocation, and in particular,

7. Didn’t explain this practice and its inevitable results when she was interviewing for the job. Continue reading

Easy Call: Employers Asking For Facebook Passwords? It’s Unethical. So Let’s Stop It.

Ethics Alarms’ predecessor, The Ethics Scoreboard, had a feature known as “Easy Calls,” where I would render periodic ethics verdicts I thought should be obvious. Today’s talk radio and blogosphere sensation, the report that asking for a job applicant’s Facebook password is becoming a common practice of employers, is a classic easy call. And like a lot of those on the Scoreboard, an amazing number of people are getting this easy call wrong anyway.

For example, I heard lawyer-radio talk-show host Laura Ingraham today mock complaints about the practice, saying it was a legal request. Sure, it’s legal. It is still wrong, an indefensible incursion of personal privacy. “You are always free to look for a job somewhere else,” Ingraham says, as if that makes everything fine. Being free to reject an unfair and coercive job requirement doesn’t make it any less unethical. Law professor Orrin Kerr says that the Facebook demand is in the same league as demanding a job applicant’s house keys. Let’s see, what else could a prospective employer ask? Continue reading

Silly Job Interview Ethics

What does a silly interview tell you about your prospective employer?

A website called has been collecting strange job interview questions, and Fortune has reprinted some of them, offering guidance to job interviewees who might panic when asked such questions as this one, apparently part of the Goldman Sachs interview process:

“If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?”

The trick, say the experts, is not to lose your cool. Such questions are asked, the experts explain, not to elicit a correct answer, but rather to gauge an applicant’s poise, grace, reaction to stress, creativity and humor. Continue reading