The city has confirmed that it is in the process of providing training to its Human Resources Department related to how to respond to applicants not offered jobs when they ask why they weren't hired.
It's been about two weeks since the city decided to settle a lawsuit for $15,000 brought against it by former department head Keith Adams. The city viewed the suit as groundless, but Council voted to settle anyway in order to avoid the estimated $100,000 price tag defending the case in court would've carried.
When Adams retired from the city in 2010, he was critical of its spending practices in his exit interview. A year later, he returned to the city and applied for another positing but was not offered the job. He asked the city's Human Resources Department why he wasn't hired and received an email stating it had to do with his "expressed displeasure toward the city."
Adams sued the city for a violation of his First Amendment rights and torturous interference in an employment opportunity.
Though the city stands by its statement that it did nothing wrong, it is reevaluating how to reply to applicants in similar situations.
"This won't happen again," said Mayor John Salem. "We learned our lesson."
Linda Semm, the woman who sent the email, was trying to do the right thing, Salem said. She simply wanted to explain to Adams why he wasn't hired and was not done out of malice.
Mark Ogden is the managing partner for the New Mexico and Arizona locations of Littler Mendelson, a national law firm that represents employers. He said the city did nothing wrong by responding to Adams' inquiry, but added that it maybe wasn't the best decision at the time.
"There wasn't any need to answer the inquiry from that employee," he said.
The issue with responding is that it can create problems and open the door for litigation. The best way to deal with applicant inquiries is to either not respond or say something to the effect of, "We hired the most qualified individual."
"But you don't have to respond at all, which is probably the safest thing to do," Ogden said.
It's similar to when an employer calls another employer to ask about an applicant, he said. If there's nothing good to say, the best bet is to say nothing at all, as it can get the employer who being asked the question in legal trouble.
Make employment decisions based on merit, follow the law and don't respond to questions like this, Ogden said.
Salem was hesitant to say the city will no longer respond to applicants who aren't offered positions because the city often tries to help applicants improve their ability to be hired. An applicant denied a job in one area often applies for another in a different department, Salem said. The city doesn't want to lose that potential employee because it failed to tell him or her what improvements are needed to get better, he said.
"We just need to be more careful with how we respond," Salem said.