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Pay attention to details when disciplining

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Always be prepared for a lawsuit from a disgruntled former employee. This is especially true if someone was fired for breaking company rules and believes another employee outside her protected class was treated more favorably.

For example, was the other employee allowed to keep her job under similar circumstances?

The more general your discharge reasons, the easier it is for the former employee to argue that discrimination was in play. Conversely, specific discharge reasons make it much harder to argue discrimination because chances are the fired worker won’t find someone similarly situated (i.e., who broke exactly the same rule) for comparison. See how this played out in a recent case.

Recent case: Yordanos, who is an Ethiopian woman, worked for HMS Host at Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport as a cashier. In addition to her cashier duties, she distributed keys and money to other associates at the beginning of shifts and collected money and dropped it in a cash room at the end of shifts. Company rules required cash drawer reconciliation every shift. Cashiers who were off by more than $50, either short or over, faced disciplinary action.

Yordanos was fired when her drawer was over by $50.02.

She sued, alleging various forms of discrimination including national origin, sex and race. She identified one male employee with a cash discrepancy over $50 back in 2009 who wasn’t fired. Yordanos also pointed to two employees outside her protected classes who kept their jobs after selling cigarettes to minors.

The company explained that it changed the rules on cash shortages back in 2010, before Yordanos was fired. And it argued that it treated the other two employees differently because they broke an entirely different rule.

The court tossed out Yord-anos’ discrimination claims based on the employer’s detailed explanations. (Haile v. HMS Host, No. 14-379, DC MN, 2015)

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