If two employees break the same workplace rule, they should receive the same punishment.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t distinguish between degrees of culpability.
It’s perfectly fine to terminate an employee who has a long history of rule breaking and retain another because it’s a first offense.
Recent case: Cynthia Queer worked at a PNC bank branch, opening new accounts and filling in at the teller lines when needed.
It became clear to her supervisor, the branch manager, that Queer was not meeting her goals. He placed her on a series of improvement plans.
Then Queer cleared a large check deposited by a relative of her ex-husband although she should have placed a hold on it. The check bounced. Shortly after, she overrode a 45-day hold an employee had placed on another large check. After it turned out to be a counterfeit, Queer was fired.
She sued for sex discrimination, alleging that the branch manager told her to figure out why there was a hold on the check. Therefore, she said, he was equally responsible for the loss.
PNC told the court why the two were not punished equally. Queer was terminated for a series of problems; the branch manager was less culpable than Queer, so he remained employed.
The court dismissed the case, concluding that the two were not similarly situated and Queer wasn’t targeted because of her sex. (Queer v. PNC, No. 5:10-CV-2540, ND OH, 2011)