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Worry about disciplinary inequities from one supervisor, not every boss

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in Discrimination and Harassment

When monitoring discipline across the organization, you no doubt will find that some supervisors are stricter disciplinarians that others. That’s OK.

Yes, all employees are supposed to be treated equally when they break the same rule. But when courts compare discipline, they don’t do so across the entire organization. They focus on one supervisor at a time. Company-wide variations are normal and not absolute proof of discrimination.

Recent case: Donna, a physician, worked at a university hospital and was responsible for entering test results into a national transplant database. If information is entered incorrectly, some patients may miss out on a needed transplant, with tragic consequences.

During an audit, managers became suspicious of some of Donna’s entries. An investigation followed and Donna was fired for allegedly altering records.

She sued, claiming sex discrimination. She pointed out that several male doctors had faced similar questions about their records but weren’t fired.

The court tossed out her case. It explained that the doctors in question had different supervisors and different roles. Therefore, they couldn’t be used as comparators to show sex discrimination. (Floyd-Gimon v. University of Arkansas, et al., No. 12-1797, 8th Cir., 2013)

Final note: You should worry about differences in discipline imposed by a particular supervisor. If he fires some employees for a rule violation but cuts others a break, it’s worth seeing if any patterns are apparent. Does he only fire women or Hispanics or members of a particular protected class?

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