All employees are supposed to be treated equitably, regardless of their protected class. But just as each employee is different, so may discipline sometimes differ.
To account for those differences, be very specific about the underlying reasons for your discipline. Merely citing the rule the employee broke without listing specifics may make it look as though you’re treating some employees differently than those of another protected class.
However, detailed documentation will enable you to justify different punishment for different violations without appearing to favor members of one group.
Recent case: Vlad, an Onondaga County deputy sheriff, is of Brazilian national origin. When he failed to turn in time sheets regularly, his supervisor issued him a warning, specifically ordering him to turn in every time sheet on time.
When Vlad missed his next deadline, he was disciplined again.
That’s when he sued, alleging national-origin discrimination. He claimed that someone not of Brazilian national origin hadn’t been disciplined for turning in late time sheets.
The sheriff’s department countered that Vlad wasn’t disciplined merely for turning in time sheets late. Rather, he was disciplined for specifically disobeying his supervisor’s direct order. The other employee’s conduct couldn’t be used as the basis for the lawsuit because he hadn’t been under direct orders to turn the form in. The court tossed out the suit. (Zuk v. Onondaga County, et al., No. 10-4472, 2nd Cir., 2012)
- Leave as a disability accommodation: Are your policies compliant?
- Warning letter typically isn't an adverse reaction
- OK to fire for insubordination, even if employee has filed discrimination complaint
- Remind managers: Even unconventional female-on-male harassment can be illegal
- Stay out of court by establishing clear job-Posting rules