When you set out to discipline a worker for breaking a rule, prepare a report that tells the whole story. That’s especially important if you need to justify why one employee received a harsher punishment than others who, in the past, may have committed similar offenses.
Details matter in disciplinary write-ups. Provide concrete reasons why one employee was punished harshly while another got off relatively lightly. Include descriptions of events that transpired, witness statements and the like.
Recent case: Stacey worked as a sales consultant for a chain of retirement communities in California. Her job was to show off the community to prospective buyers.
For four years, she regularly complained about the time-keeping system, alleging that it was cumbersome and didn’t properly credit her with leave time.
One day, Stacey heard barking and left her office to investigate. She got into an argument with a resident about the woman’s dog. According to co-workers who were later interviewed, Stacey grabbed the dog’s leash and told the resident she should immediately leave the community. The witnesses claimed the resident remained calm, but Stacey shook her finger at the woman and yelled loudly.
The retirement community fired Stacey for violating a rule that said staff had to treat residents with respect.
She sued, alleging wage-and-hour violations, plus sex discrimination. Stacey argued that a male employee once got into an argument with the same resident, but was not terminated.
However, the retirement community explained that when it investigated that incident, the resident, not the staff member, had been belligerent. The male employee had told the woman she could not take her dog into a dining area. The resident became angry, heaping abuse on the male employee.
The court concluded that the employer had shown that while both situations involved the same resident and her dog, there were big differences. The male employee wasn’t punished for the altercation because he had been enforcing a health rule and it had been the resident who had become belligerent.
The roles were reversed for Stacey—it was she who behaved badly. The court said that justified different treatment. Stacey’s sex discrimination claim was dismissed. (Guthmann v. Classic Residence, ND CA 2017)