The easiest way for an employee to win a discrimination lawsuit is to complain about discrimination and then sit back and wait for a supervisor or manager to retaliate.
That’s why it’s so important for HR to keep track of discrimination complaints and disciplinary actions. By tracking all discipline, you can readily tell whether there was favoritism or just punishment—and whether harsh discipline was retaliation.
Perform a routine internal audit to make sure employees who break the same rules are punished equitably and similarly. Complaining employees have to show they were treated less favorably than other employees who broke the same rule.
Recent case: Karen Wood was a loss prevention manager for a Kmart store in Florida. She was fired when she violated a standard protocol for catching and detaining a suspected shoplifter. Previously, she had filed a sexual harassment claim against the company.
Wood sued, alleging retaliation and sex discrimination. She admitted that she broke company rules when she had improperly detained a customer. But she told the court that two male loss prevention managers had also broken rules—
and that they hadn’t been fired.
But the court said the two men weren’t similarly situated—they didn’t break the detention policy in the same way she admitted she had done. The court said breaking a company rule was a legitimate discharge reason, and there was no evidence either sex or retaliation was at work. (Wood v. K-Mart Corporation, No. 07-13006, 11th Cir., 2008)
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