It happens—employers make mistakes. Under most circumstances, however, those mistakes won’t turn into successful employee discrimination lawsuits.
That’s because employees have to prove that both the decision and the underlying facts were wrong and were used as an excuse to discriminate.
Recent case: William Sanchez worked in billing at a gas utility. He was fired after first receiving a written warning about extending due dates for bills and then being caught again extending due dates for a fellow employee and the tenant of a property he owned.
He sued, alleging he had been fired on account of his race.
But the court said Sanchez had not offered evidence that the company’s reason for firing him—manipulating due dates—was both untrue and merely an excuse to terminate when the real reason was discrimination. Sanchez lost his case. (Sanchez v. Connecticut Natural Gas, No. 10-1589, 2nd Cir., 2011)
Final note: The employer did everything right in this case. It had asystem in place and followed it for Sanchez and all other employees. After a warning, it terminated Sanchez for conduct that clearly violated company rules.
Contrast that with a supervisor’s decision to “throw the book” at an employee who has complained about discrimination. If the supervisor didn’t also enforce the rules against other employees, the targeted employee might be able to show the reason he was punished was merely an excuse discriminate or retaliate.