Human Resources News & Insights

Sixth Circuit: High standard to prove employees are similarly situated

A recent ruling by the Sixth Circuit shows when it comes to discrimination lawsuits, the standard is pretty high for proving the employees who received differential treatment are actually similarly situated. 

When a company fired Ramona DeBra for indiscretions younger workers weren’t punished for, she filed an age discrimination lawsuit. But she had trouble showing the court her situation was comparable to her younger co-workers’.

Backstory

DeBra worked as a bank teller at Chase. But after making a series of errors — overpaying customers, leaving funds unsecured on counters and forgetting to return bank cards to customers — she was terminated.

While these appear to be fireable offenses, DeBra claimed her colleagues made the same errors and weren’t fired. Since they were all younger than her, DeBra alleged her age was the real reason she was terminated.

Different supervisors

The court said DeBra’s claim came down to proving she and her co-workers were similarly situated. And while they all had the same job and committed the same errors, DeBra had a different supervisor. The other employees’ supervisor was known to be more lenient than DeBra’s.

It was true that several other tellers had made the same mistakes (or worse) than DeBra, but there was no employee who shared DeBra’s supervisor, was younger and committed the same errors. Therefore, the Sixth Circuit reaffirmed a lower court’s decision and granted summary judgment to the company.

Takeaway

This ruling is good news for employers. Discrimination claims rest on employees’ ability to show they were treated less favorably than similarly situated colleagues. This case shows that even just one difference between employees’ situations can be enough to prove they aren’t similarly situated.

Cite: DeBra v. JPMorgan Chase & Company, U.S. Crt. of App. 6th Circ., No. 17-1411, 9/5/18.

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