Former contractor says Cisco discriminated against minority candidates

A former contracted employee is suing Cisco Systems for discriminating against her because she was black.
A former contracted employee is suing Cisco Systems for discriminating against her because she was black. File photo

A Wake County woman who was contracted as a recruiter for Cisco Systems is suing the technology company for discriminating against her because she is black.

Michelle Brief-McGurrin filed the lawsuit in the Durham County Courthouse on Jan. 16 against Cisco Systems and the U.S. subsidiary of the Dutch human resources consulting company Randstad, claiming that the companies terminated her position because she complained about racial discrimination in Cisco’s recruiting process and that she was treated differently than white employees.

Brief-McGurrin was contracted to work for Cisco via Randstad from June 2010 until January 2015 as a talent recruiter that focused on bringing in qualified minority candidates.

Cisco, which is headquartered in San Jose, Calif., is one of the largest employers in Research Triangle Park with 4,500 employees and well more than 1,000 contractors as of 2016. The company did lay off several thousand employees worldwide that year, however.

The lawsuit, which only presents the plaintiff’s side of the story, claims Brief-McGurrin repeatedly met resistance in recruiting minority candidates for job interviews, was never transitioned to a full-time Cisco employee like several white colleagues had been, and was asked to hide data that showed Cisco was not interviewing qualified minority candidates.

Brief-McGurrin’s objections to the company’s recruitment process and “the fact that she did not comport with the young, Caucasian female work environment,” led to her being blocked from promotions and, ultimately, to her termination from employment with Randstad and Cisco three years ago, the suit claims.

Multiple efforts to reach Cisco for comment on the lawsuit were not successful. A spokeswoman for Randstad said the company does not comment on pending or ongoing litigation.

Brief-McGurrin’s termination from Cisco, the suit claims, can be traced back to 2014, when she began working for the company’s university relations team, which was responsible for finding potential job applicants at universities. Her role on the team focused on recruiting from minority candidate pools and gave her access to confidential Cisco internal data sources.

While working in this position, the suit states, “she began to identify systemic problems with Cisco’s minority recruitment efforts.”

“Cisco was not following up on top African-American and other minority candidates, top African-American candidates’ resumes were inexplicably lost and Cisco’s participation in minority recruitment events were surface level and failed to communicate a sincere interest in engaging African-American and other minority candidates for potential employment,” the suit says.

Brief-McGurrin also claims that she was prevented from recruiting at historically black colleges and universities or was only allowed to visit late in the hiring season, “which significantly limited the population of competitive candidates.” In contrast there were “year-long recruitment efforts at colleges and universities with majority Caucasian populations such as Stanford, Duke and Virginia Tech.”

When compiling a report on Cisco’s recruiting in December 2014, Brief-McGurrin claims she was also asked to remove data that showed “only 80 out of 450 (17 percent) of predominantly minority candidates that Plaintiff’s team had identified as qualified for open Cisco positions were contacted for interviews.” The suit claims Brief-McGurring had never been asked to cover up data for other reports and believes it was because it revealed a “markedly-lower percentage” of follow-ups than the percentage of follow-ups on white candidates.

Brief-McGurrin said she refused the order.

Then on Jan 14. 2015, she was asked to end the candidacies of all identified candidates not yet interviewed – many of whom, the suit claims, were minorities. Brief-McGurrin refused to do that “as this request would have permanently removed … minority candidates from the recruiting process as they would show in the system as having been interviewed and deemed not qualified for employment with Cisco.”

On Jan. 21 2015, however, her superior ordered other members of her team to end the candidacies of all candidates not yet interviewed by the end of the month.

Around five days later, Brief-McGurrin was terminated from her contract position with Cisco due to a lack of funding – though she claims that she was told earlier that her position was safe from funding cuts at least until August 2015.

The suit claims that the termination was in retaliation to Brief-McGurrin’s complaints about what she saw as racial discrimination in Cisco’s recruitment process. Brief-McGurrin is asking for more than $25,000 in compensatory damages from her termination nearly three years ago.

Zachery Eanes: 919-419-6684, @zeanes