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Win discrimination cases by showing that your rules apply equally to everyone

by on
in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Rules are no good if you follow them only some of the time. Uneven enforcement can cause lawsuits.

If you have rules, enforce them. Drop those you don’t want to enforce. Otherwise, a supervisor may find it convenient to punish someone for breaking a rule that others are allowed to ignore.

Recent case: Lonnie Dickens, who is black, worked in a large bakery plant. After he and other workers pitched in with additional help on a big project, the company rewarded them for their hard work with a party featuring pizza and cold drinks.

During the festivities, two coolers went missing. One turned up in Dickens’ car, and another in the car of another employee, who is also black. Dickens and his co-worker were fired for theft.

Dickens sued, alleging race discrimination.

But the court quickly dismissed his case because he couldn’t show that anyone (black or not) had been treated more leniently for a similar offense. The fact is, the company fired everyone who took a cooler that day. (Dickens v. Interstate Brands, No. 08-5906, 6th Cir., 2010)

Final note: The employer in this case did everything right. It conducted an investigation, concluded that the accused employees had taken the coolers without permission and fired them both. Dickens couldn’t point to anyone else who had stolen something similar and was treated differently. There was absolutely no evidence that race had anything to do with the discharges.

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