Christina Johnson, a police officer for Olmsted Township who was fired for crawling into a stranger’s car while highly intoxicated and then passing out, will have the chance to convince a jury that she suffered discrimination.
Johnson was off duty during the episode, but was wearing her uniform sweater. The township asked for her resignation for violating the department’s standards of conduct, which allow for discipline up to “termination if public image is severely damaged.”
Johnson resigned, but later sued, claiming that male officers had committed more serious misconduct without being terminated.
One officer had received a one-day suspension for drinking while driving a city vehicle, resulting in damage to city property. Another officer had been accused of being under the influence of alcohol while driving a car with weapons in the trunk. The officer allegedly drove the car into a tree and abandoned it in a park. The department investigated these incidents but found no wrongdoing.
A court hearing pretrial motions in Johnson’s case allowed the suit to proceed to trial. The court found that while the department’s discipline was in line with its written policies, Johnson raised legitimate questions as to whether it was applying its policies evenly.
Note: In deciding discrimination cases, courts consider not only whether your actions are fair and follow policies, but also whether you’re applying them equally to all employees.
Consider conducting periodic audits to ensure that your company’s discipline is impartial.