Court: Firing a worker for sleeping on the job didn't negate her retaliation claims
- A police officer with the U.S. Postal Service filed a discrimination complaint against her supervisors and was later fired for sleeping on the job, writes SHRM. Although she was fired for violating a workplace rule, her discrimination and retaliation claims held up in court.
- Diping Anderson, who is of Chinese descent, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that her supervisors discriminated against her by making her return to work after an injury difficult. A series of events led her to believe her supervisors were singling her out because of her race, including replacing her office chair with a broken one and declaring her AWOL after she was told to leave if she didn’t like what happened.
- Although she was dismissed for violating a workplace rule, the U.S. District Court for Massachusetts said that she had shown evidence that her supervisors didn’t fire other workers for the same violation and that they retaliated against her for filing complaints. Therefore, she could proceed with her case, ruled the court.
Employers feel justified in firing employees for breaking the rules. But they shouldn’t cherry-pick which employees to punish or fire. If other similarly situated workers weren’t singled out for the same infraction as Anderson, bias against her on the supervisors’ part is a natural assumption. Also, Anderson was in a protected class under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Retaliation is not simple to claim but it is comparably easier to prove than claiming discrimination. The short space in time between her claims and her supervisors’ adverse actions against her reinforced the probability that retaliation was a motive.