What is a Disparate Impact?

Definition: A disparate impact is a situation where hiring filters and criteria that are apparently justified have a disproportionately adverse impact in a given protected group such as age, gender or racial faction. It is a term that refers to an unequal scenario where certain group is discriminated through an apparently fair screening process.

What Does Disparate Impact Mean?

A disparate impact is the consequence of well-thought screening processes that, normally unintentionally, end up discriminating a certain group of the population. Employment laws require equal treatment for people regardless their age, gender, sex preference, race, religion or nationality. These are considered protected groups. Disparate impact is a legal argument, used in employment law, and in order for its existence to be determined a historical evaluation of previous screening processes must be performed.

Businesses and employers normally develop tools to assess potential job candidates properly, in order to hire the most qualified. Nevertheless, even when these procedures can be considered fair, neutral and non-discriminatory, the overall results of its application might lead to discrimination. In this regard, disparate impact is not considered illegal per se, unless the employer is not able to explain why the procedures appear to lead towards discriminatory results.


US Candles Co. is a company that manufactures different sizes and shapes of candles for retailers. An individual that was recently interviewed for a job position and didn’t get selected is filing a lawsuit against the company because of religious discrimination. He alleges that the company asked him to unveil his religious preferences during the interview and after not being picked he met with fellow candidates that shared the same religion and they manifested that they were also asked to unveil that aspect of their life.

After performing a thorough research it appears that no one employed by the company has the same religious belief that he has, which raised concerns about discrimination. The company stated that even though they don’t discriminate directly any religious group, it appears that during the screening process, candidates with strong religious convictions were screened out because they have been problematic in the past. This is a case of disparate impact that must be corrected because it promotes discrimination within the workplace.

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