A federal district court granted an employer’s summary judgment motion in light of evidence that employees allegedly not disciplined for similar infractions as the plaintiff included those of the same race and color as the plaintiff.. The Court ruled that the purported inconsistency in enforcement, if any, was not because of the plaintiff’s race or color. Harden v. OmniSource Corp. (N.D. Ind. May 4, 2017).
In Harden, plaintiff alleged he was scrutinized more closely than his co-workers because of his race (African American) and/or color. Although the parties disputed whether the plaintiff’s coworkers were disciplined for similar infractions, it was undisputed that: (1) the employer terminated a Caucasian employee’s employment for safety violations about one month before the plaintiff’s termination; and, (2) some of the comparators identified by the plaintiff were of the same race and color. Thus, the Court found that the alleged inconsistency in enforcement had no connection to the plaintiff’s race or color. Furthermore, where the plaintiff presented no evidence of the comparators’ disciplinary histories, plaintiff’s receipt of four written warnings in three months could easily have differentiated him from those who allegedly were treated less severely.
Although the result was favorable in this case for the employer, the decision serves as a reminder of the importance of ensuring consistent application of company policy. Regularly scheduled management training can help reduce incidents that may create liability to the company.