An important aspect of running a successful business is managing the various forms of liability the business faces in its day-to-day operation. Among these liabilities are employment disputes, such as claims of wrongful termination, discrimination, and retaliation.
Discrimination claims, of course, can involve issues of race, sex, disability, religion, and age. A recent case involving allegations of age discrimination highlights an important principle for businesses on the issue of discriminatory treatment: namely, that whenever disciplinary action is taken, it is important to look at how similarly situated employees are being treated.
A recent federal case specifically involved the issue of whether employees with different job responsibilities, different supervisors and different levels of responsibly can be considered similarly situated for purposes of age discrimination litigation. The case involved a 76-year-old machinist who was forced to resign after his employer determined that he contributed to a company recall. Another employee was also identified as being responsible, and both “chose” to resign rather than to be fired.
The older employee ended up suing the company on the grounds that three younger, similarly situated employees had committed similar violations without consequences. The case was dismissed at the trial level, and that decision was upheld on appeal on the grounds that the younger employees were, in fact, not similarly situated to the older employee.
In our next post, we’ll look a bit more at this case and speak a bit about the importance of coming up with effective disciplinary policies to ensure compliance with federal law.