There’s an easy way to avoid losing a discrimination lawsuit stemming from disciplining an employee who breaks company rules: Make absolutely certain you discipline fairly and evenhandedly, meting out punishment regardless of race, sex, nationality or other protected characteristics.
Advice: Conduct regular audits of all disciplinary actions to make certain no one gets a free pass and everyone who commits the same offense suffers the same punishment.
Recent case: Timothy Jones, who is black, worked as a computer operator. When he started work, he got a copy of the employee handbook, which warned, “Violent behavior in the workplace will not be tolerated and may lead to immediate dismissal from employment.”
Jones got into a physical altercation at work with a white co-worker, Michael Surma. Jones hit Surma, and a third employee tried to break up the fight. Jones hit him, too. Another employee witnessed it all.
The company fired Jones and Surma, citing the co-worker’s testimony and the employee handbook rule against violence.
Jones sued, alleging race discrimination. But the court quickly dismissed the lawsuit, well before trial. It reasoned that Jones couldn’t show any evidence that he had been treated differently than Surma. (Jones v. Jack Henry & Associates, No. 3:06-CV-428, WD NC, 2007)
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