If you have a disciplinary policy that dictates punishment for different infractions, make sure you thoroughly investigate each incident. That way, you’ll be better prepared to show why one employee received a lesser punishment than another.
That rationale is crucial when it comes to a discrimination lawsuit. You must be prepared to show how thorough your investigation was and why you did what you did.
Recent case: Ronnie Walker, a black corrections officer, was fired after he beat an inmate for no apparent reason. He claimed that white corrections officers, who broke the same rule against inmate abuse, weren’t punished as harshly or were reinstated after they protested their firings.
But in court the employer was able to show the results of its internal investigations. When they compared each case side-by-side, it became apparent that, although the corrections officers may have technically violated the same rule, the individual details were very different. For example, several of the white officers hit inmates who had provoked them somehow, such as hitting or spitting at the officers. On the other hand, the investigation into Walker’s assault on a prisoner indicated Walker wasn’t provoked.
Finally, Walker pointed to a white officer who had hit an inmate under similar circumstances, but was later reinstated. Walker claimed this was proof of prejudice since he had not been reinstated. But the court noted the white officer was reinstated because of a hearing officer’s decision, not the employer’s. Therefore, it had been outside the employer’s control. The court tossed the case. (Walker v. Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, No. 06-3900, 6th Cir., 2007)
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