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Weigh prior discipline when deciding to fire

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Before you fire a worker for making a serious mistake, take into account his or her past disciplinary history and make it part of your decision-making process.

That way, should the worker challenge the decision by claiming others outside his protected class were treated more leniently, you have that past discipline as support for a harsher punishment.

Recent case: James, a 76-year-old machinist, made and inspected actuators parts. When the company had to recall 662 actuators, it set about identifying what was wrong. It turned out that each had the same flaw—and that James was responsible for it. The recall cost the company almost $200,000. It fired James and another worker who should have caught the defect before the devices were shipped.

James sued, alleging age discrimination. He claimed that younger employees who made errors had not been fired.

But the company explained that it fired James for the mistake and for his prior disciplinary problems, all documented in his file and considered in the final decision-making process.

The other employees James believed were treated more favorably for similar mistakes had no prior disciplinary history. That distinction sank James’ lawsuit; the court tossed it out. (Hinga v. MIC Group, No. 14-20616, 5th Cir., 2015)

Final note: Good records win lawsuits. That’s especially true in discrimination cases. Complete documentation makes it easy to justify varying punishments for the same or similar conduct by explaining the differences in the details. In this case, James had a history of carelessness, while the younger workers had only made one-time mistakes.

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