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Reversing disciplinary decisions can spark bias lawsuit

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

If you punished two employees for the same misdeed but only one asked you to reverse the decision, consider the legal ramifications first. As a new case shows, if you grant “amnesty” to one employee but not the other, you could trigger a discrimination lawsuit.

Remind supervisors that before they modify a disciplinary action, they must weigh the impact on others who’ve been punished for the same crime. Carefully consider if you should change their punishment, too, even if they don’t ask.

Recent case: Aaron Chambers, a black man, worked for many years as a refrigeration mechanic at the Capitol building in Harrisburg. The state gave him regular promotions but then suspended and demoted him for having an accident in a state vehicle.

The accident occurred when Chambers and a white subordinate took a state car without authorization to pick up food. The subordinate was also suspended but he appealed to an arbitrator, who reversed the punishment.

Chambers sued for race discrimination, alleging disparate treatment. The federal trial court concluded that overturning the white subordinate’s suspension was enough evidence of bias to let the case go to trial. (Chambers v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, No. 1:04-CV-0714, MD PA, 2006)  

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