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Any deviation from company rules may arouse suspicion

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

When it comes to discrimination lawsuits, the earlier they are dismissed, the better. That’s one reason you don’t want to give a judge any incentive to send a case to a jury.

Of course, deviating from your own company rules is one of those things that often leads judges to order a jury trial, where 12 strangers decide whether your company discriminated.

Recent case: Billy Tratree, who is black, worked for BP North American Pipelines for years with no negative ratings. He did, however, complain that co-workers sometimes used racial slurs, that he was forced to work overtime when his white co-workers were not and that his district manager provided more training opportunities for white employees than for black employees.

Then the company decided to shut down some of its pipelines, resulting in layoffs. Employees were allowed to “bump” one another to retain their jobs, within a set of rules contained in their collective bargaining contract. However, BP allegedly didn’t allow Tratree to bump the person (who was white) that the contract said he could bump.

Tratree took a less desirable position. And then he sued, alleging race discrimination.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals said the case should go to trial because the company didn’t have a good reason for not letting Tratree bump in the way the rules said he could. (Tratree v. BP North American Pipelines, No. 06-21003, 5th Cir., 2008)

Final note:
The rules are the rules. Deviating from them will always look suspicious. But if you do, make certain you have an ironclad good reason. In this case, the jury will no doubt hear about Tratree’s other allegations, too. That may persuade them that the real reason for not letting Tratree move up was race.

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