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Track discipline companywide to show no double standard

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

One of the most common employment law claims is the uneven enforcement of workplace rules. The only foolproof way to counter such lawsuits: Keep complete disciplinary records for all employees.

It’s the only way to show that the discipline you imposed on a member of a protected class (e.g., sex, race, disability) wasn’t more severe than other employees received for similar conduct.

Recent case: The police department for the Village of McFarland fired rookie police officer Shannon Sullivan after she failed to stop to help a fellow officer who crashed his patrol car. The two had been en route to a police chase in another part of town. Rules forbid abandoning a fellow officer in danger.

Sullivan sued, alleging that male rookie cops who had broken other rules got a second chance while she was summarily fired. But the police department brought in all its disciplinary records and could show two things: First, this wasn’t Sullivan’s only transgression—she had been written up for conflicts with co-workers, not enforcing the speed limit and not promptly handling paperwork. Second, the male officers she wanted to compare herself to had committed less-serious rule violations.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s dismissal of the lawsuit. It concluded Sullivan’s offense wasn’t on par with the other officers’ errors. If the police department hadn’t carefully documented each rookie’s errors and mistakes, it would have been tougher to defend the case. (Sullivan v. Village of McFarland, No. 06-3231, 7th Cir., 2007)

Final note: Simply put, good and complete records win lawsuits. 

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