A newly released North Carolina Court of Appeals opinion makes it clear that employers have to make absolutely sure they are treating all similarly situated employees alike.
Recent case: Bennie Corbett, who is black, worked for the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Corbett told his boss he wanted to run for sheriff and got permission. Then, an attorney for the federal government’s Office of Special Counsel informed the DMV that the federal Hatch Act made it illegal for employees working in positions that receive federal funds from running for political office.
The DMV told Corbett he could resign or drop his campaign for sheriff. Another black employee running for public office was told the same thing. However, a white employee already held elected office. The department did not ask her to resign.
Corbett quit and sued, alleging race discrimination. The DMV argued it had no choice but to do what it did, or it would lose federal highway funding. But the Court of Appeals said that the DMV should have applied the rule to everyone, regardless of race. (Corbett v. North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles, No. COA07-791, North Carolina Court of Appeals, 2008)
Final note: It wasn’t good enough that a federal law required Corbett either to resign or quit the campaign. While legally required, the problem was that the DMV did not apply the law to everyone, white or black.
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