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Good records win lawsuits: When disciplining, be as specific as possible

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,Human Resources

Always be prepared to defend against a former employee’s lawsuit. If someone was terminated for breaking workplace rules, he may claim you treated others outside his protected classification more favorably. That is, you let their similar behavior slide while you punished the fired worker more severely.

The best way to counter such charges is with very specific records showing why you believe each punishment fit the rule violation.

Recent case: Marlin was fired from his rail yard job after a long history of rule violations, including causing a derailment, riding on moving equipment and exercising poor crew supervision, which resulted in an accident.

He sued, alleging that others who also worked in the rail yard hadn’t been punished as severely for similar rule violations.

But Marlin couldn’t point to anyone with the same job and responsibilities who had committed as many rule violations or ones as serious—much less someone comparable—who had not been fired.

The railroad kept careful records containing specific information about each incident, easily distinguishing Marlin’s case from other less serious rule violations. The court tossed Marlin’s case. (Player v. Kansas City Southern Railway, No. 11-31186, 5th Cir., 2012)

Final note: Merely noting which rule the employee broke isn’t good enough. Record the details. They’ll help you show that you tailored the punishment to the specific situation and didn’t consider factors such as race, sex, age or other protected characteristics in the decision.

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