It’s impossible to know if a termination will lead a former employee to sue for discrimination. That’s why it’s crucial to enforce all your rules equitably. You don’t want an employee to be able to say that someone else broke the same rule without receiving harsh punishment.
Recent case: Stud Stephens, who is black, worked the 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift at a Manatee County facility that converts waste into fertilizer. The work carries a high risk of deadly explosions.
During one night shift, Stephens’ supervisor got a phone call from the facility’s alarm monitoring system reporting a problem. He tried to notify Stephens and the other employee (who happens to be white) who was supposed to be working that night. Neither answered calls to their cell phones and the facility line.
When the supervisor arrived at the plant around 4 a.m., he found the lights out and the equipment still running. Stephens and the other employee were nowhere to be seen, and had apparently already clocked out. The county fired both for abandoning their jobs.
Stephens sued, alleging race discrimination.
But the county pointed out that it had summarily fired the white employee, too. That was enough for the court to toss out his lawsuit. (Stephens v. Manatee County, No. 8:10-CV-2787, MD FL, 2011)
Final note: There’s never a guarantee you won’t be sued. That’s why you must prepare as if every discharge will be challenged.
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