When it comes to discrimination, your best defense is treating everyone absolutely equally. And that’s tough to do without a central HR tracking system.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. Make sure you note any problems (and praise) in each employee’s official file. Then, do regular audits—pulling out data on age, sex, national origin and race—to tabulate the types of problems and any discipline levied.
The tally will flag any suspicious patterns an attorney would love to get his or her hands on—such as more severe discipline for employees of one race over another. The system will help you to recommend discipline appropriate to each case. Plus, you’ll have all the information at your fingertips if an employee sues.
Recent case: Antoine Hawkins, who is black, was fired from his job as a corrections officer for allegedly being disrespectful to a deputy sheriff when he was pulled over for a traffic violation and allowing an inmate to do part of his job.
Hawkins sued, alleging race discrimination. He was able to show that a slew of white corrections officers were not fired or seriously disciplined for similar or worse behavior—including drunken driving, writing bad checks, failing to lock down their cell blocks, playing cards with inmates and even letting inmates out of their cells unattended.
That was enough for the court to let the case go to trial, where a jury will decide if the apparent disparate treatment shows race discrimination. (Hawkins v. County of Oneida, No. 5:04-CV-132, ND NY, 2007)