The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a decision by the Michigan City Human Rights Commission (MHRC) finding that Filter Specialists Inc. discriminated against two employees because they are black.
Dawn Brooks and Charmaine Weathers were fired in 2003 for time-card fraud after an HR manager observed Weathers drop off Brooks at the plant entrance at 7 am one morning. The manager saw Weathers park her car and enter the facility at a second entrance. The manager entered the building and waited by the time clock, where she observed that Weathers did not clock in.
Time records showed that Brooks and Weathers both were clocked in at 7:01 am. Based on the time records, she concluded Brooks had clocked in for Weathers.
The HR manager recommended termination, while the women’s supervisor counseled against it because both women were good employees. The company instead presented the women with an opportunity to sign “last-chance agreements.” But both denied the charges and refused to sign, at which point the company fired them.
The women filed race discrimination claims with the MHRC, claiming that white employees were not terminated for more serious violations, such as leaving a shift without permission and sleeping on the job. After the commission found in the women’s favor, Filter Specialists appealed. That’s when the appeals court overturned the decision.
In its ruling, the court specifically noted that Filter’s employment manual showed the company considered time-card fraud a particularly serious offense, calling for a mandatory punishment of suspension or termination.
Tip: Your handbook can be either your worst enemy or your best friend in court. Make sure you review your employee handbook periodically with a legal advisor.