Employers that keep careful track of which employees are disciplined—and for what reasons—have a leg up if they’re ever sued for discrimination.
Keep track of all discipline against all employees. Then, before you terminate any employee, take the time to pull up all similar past disciplinary files. If those records show you fired other employees for identical or less-serious offenses, chances are no court will second-guess your decision in the latest case.
Recent case: Steven Michael, a white man with a disability, accepted a job with the city of Dallas Water Department. His supervisors and managers were either black or of Iranian descent.
After he had worked at the water department for just a few weeks, a co-worker reported what she considered threats to managers and HR. She said that Michael had said he “might have to bring his .45” to work to deal with “our supervisor.”
HR interviewed the co-worker and concluded she had never made false complaints before. Therefore, they chose to believe her.
Then an HR rep checked to see what discipline others had received for breaking the department’s strict zero-tolerance policy against threats or violence. The record showed another employee had been fired after getting into a heated argument, so the department terminated Michael.
He sued, alleging race and disability discrimination.
But the court said the department had acted in good faith when it decided to fire Michael for breaking the rule against threats and violence, especially since it spoke with the accuser and found her credible, and had previously fired another worker for a less serious breach of the same rule. The case was dismissed. (Michael v. City of Dallas, No. 05-09-00210, Court of Appeals of Texas, 5th District, 2010)
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