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Audit discipline cases for hidden racial bias

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Supervisors sometimes enforce rules in a biased way or discipline members of a protected class more severely than others. But HR can stop this discrimination dead in its tracks with an internal informal audit. Regular monitoring (and fixing any problems you find) may be the best lawsuit-prevention tool around.

Recent case: Keith, who is black, was charged with falsifying a time record, failing to respond to an emergency call and receiving overtime pay for work not performed. His employer wanted to fire him, but management later concluded the charges were unfounded.

However, Keith was so upset about the whole affair that he suffered emo­­tional distress—and took four months off.

When he returned, Keith provided a release from his doctor, but his supervisor refused to accept it. Soon after, he received an annual review rating of “unsuccessful” and was placed on an improvement plan for 13 weeks with a 10% reduction in salary.

Keith then briefly passed out from heat exhaustion while operating a company car. His supervisor rejected a physician’s health release and ordered him to submit to a fitness-for-duty examination. He also restricted Keith’s duties, reassigned him to the warehouse and required him to submit to a second examination.

These actions were also eventually reversed, but only after Keith spent six months in the warehouse, all the while losing overtime pay.

Keith sued, alleging that white co-workers hadn’t had their medical releases challenged, hadn’t received poor evaluations without warning or been subjected to multiple fitness exams.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals said Keith had enough evidence to warrant a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit. (Jones v. City of St. Louis, No. 13-2809, 8th Cir., 2014)

Final note: Always be on the lookout for racial disparities. Does a particular supervisor single out one race for harsh punishment?

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