When Justice Promotes Injustice: Why Minority Leaders Experience Bias When They Adhere to Interpersonal Justice Rules

Research paper by Zapata, C. P, Carton, A. M, Liu, J. T.

Indexed on: 13 Aug '16Published on: 09 Aug '16Published in: Academy of Management journal. Academy of Management


Accumulated knowledge on organizational justice leaves little reason to doubt that organizational members benefit when leaders adhere to interpersonal justice rules. However, upon considering how justice behaviors influence subordinates’ cognitive processes, we predict that interpersonal justice has a surprising, unintended negative consequence. Supervisors who violate interpersonal justice rules trigger subordinates to search for reasons why their supervisors are threatening them, causing subordinates to be more attuned to supervisors’ individual characteristics and therefore unlikely to use stereotypes when evaluating them. In contrast, supervisors who adhere to interpersonal justice rules allow subordinates to divert attention away from them, leading subordinates’ judgments of their supervisors to be influenced by stereotypes. Consistent with these predictions, using field data we found that minority supervisors faced bias relative to Caucasian supervisors when supervisors adhered to—but not when they violated—interpersonal justice rules. We replicated this effect in an experiment and established that it is explained by an alternating pattern of stereotype application and inhibition: the stereotype that minority supervisors are more deceitful than Caucasians influenced fairness judgments when supervisors adhered to—but not when they violated—interpersonal justice rules. We then conducted exploratory analyses and identified one factor (unit size) that mitigates this troubling pattern.