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Keep detailed records on disciplinary process

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,Human Resources

Far too often, careless employers lose lawsuits they should have won, especially when it comes to terminations.

Here’s why: Some fired employees will sue for discrimination, and they have to show that you treated them differently because of some protected characteristic such as race, gender or age. One way to do that is to point out that other employees who don’t belong to the same class were treated more favorably for violating the same rule.

Employers that don’t at least internally document differences in discipline will lose those cases, while smart employers—like the one in this case—will win.

Recent case: Theodoric Oliver, who is black, allegedly left the floor without permission during the middle of a shift at National Beef Packing. About 10 minutes later, he called the plant manager to complain about his supervisors.

The company then fired Oliver for walking off the job.

He sued, alleging race discrimination. In court, he pointed out that another employee (who is not black) had also walked off the job but wasn’t fired.

The company explained to the court that it had treated the two employees differently for very good reasons—and had documented those reasons long before Oliver filed his lawsuit. While Oliver walked off for no obvious legitimate reason, his co-worker did so to avoid a fight with a co-worker who had confronted him.

The court tossed out Oliver’s claim, pointing out that he couldn’t show he was treated less favorably than someone else. (Oliver v. National Beef Packing Company, No. 07-14927, 11th Cir., 2008)

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