Consistent discipline makes it easier to beat employees’ discrimination lawsuits

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

For employers, the best way to win discrimination lawsuits is consistency. When you enforce a workplace rule, do so for everyone who violates that rule—every time. That makes it difficult for an employee to cry discrimination over a discipline dispute.

Recent case: Phyllis, who is black, worked as a correctional officer with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Following frequent absences, she was disciplined for attendance problems.

Her supervisor thought she might be abusing sick leave, so she was required to provide a doctor’s note for all absences. So were all other employees designated as potential leave abusers based on past attendance. The department’s rules ­specified that employees out for more than a day had to provide a doctor’s note when they returned, stating the medical reason so management could determine FMLA status.

Phyllis hurt her back while on ­vacation and missed two more weeks of work. Her time was tentatively listed as FMLA leave and she was told to provide a doctor’s certification. When none arrived, she was asked again. Phyllis claimed that someone faxed the information, but the department claimed it never received it.

Phyllis was then terminated. She sued, alleging race discrimination.

But she could not point to a single employee outside her protected class who wasn’t fired for breaking the same rule. Her case was dismissed. (Hanklin v. Texas Department of Criminal Justice, No. 01-09-00502, Court of Appeals of Texas, 2012)

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