Have You Been Unfairly Disciplined at Work Due to Your Sex?

Have You Been Unfairly Disciplined at Work Due to Your Sex?

When it comes to employment discrimination, it is not enough for an employer to hide behind seemingly neutral disciplinary policies. In other words, if an employer enforces a given policy more harshly against one group of employees–say, women–then that qualifies as illegal discrimination. This is true even if the employer may have other, valid reasons for disciplining an employee under a given policy.

Federal Court Reinstates Discrimination Lawsuit Against Syracuse Police Department

Consider this recent decision by the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals here in New York City. In this case, a female community service officer (CSO) with the Syracuse Police Department sued the city for sex discrimination. More precisely, she alleged her supervisors treated her more harshly for purported acts of “insubordination” than her male colleagues.

According the plaintiff's lawsuit, she was having a conversation with her male sergeant about a work-related matter. The sergeant attempted to end the conversation but the plaintiff continued to speak. Another officer then intervened and ordered the plaintiff to return to her desk. The sergeant then charged the plaintiff with insubordination after consulting with his lieutenant.

The lieutenant recommended firing the plaintiff, but senior Department officials reduced that penalty to a five day suspension without pay. An independent arbitrator later overturned that decision.

In her lawsuit, the plaintiff pointed to another case in which her sergeant recommended a much lighter penalty–a written reprimand and the loss of a furlough day–to a male police officer who also committed insubordination. The Department argued that the police officer's infraction was “less severe,” but as the Second Circuit noted, the “underlying facts” were “similar.”

The appeals court also rejected the Department's argument that a police officer was not in the same situation as a CSO like the plaintiff due to different “workplace standards.” Although both groups of employees operate under different collective bargaining agreements, the Second Circuit said CSOs and police officers alike were governed by the same “Professional Standards of Conduct & Ethics,” which covered matters like insubordination. Indeed, both the plaintiff and the male police officer were punished under these common standards. As noted above, both disciplinary decisions were initiated by the same sergeant.

Although a district court granted summary judgment to the city, the Second Circuit reversed, not only for the reasons discussed above, but also because the trial court “erred in concluding that the severity of [the plaintiff's] discipline did not provide evidence of discrimination.” At trial, a jury could find there were discriminatory motives behind the sergeant's decision to recommend an “extreme” punishment for the plaintiff's insubordination relative to similar actions of her male colleagues.

Speak with a New York City Sex Discrimination Lawyer Today

The need to enforce workplace discipline can never be used as a pretext for illegal discrimination. If you have reason to suspect you are being treated differently at work based on sex, race, disability, or any other legally protected characteristic, you need to speak with a qualified New York City employment attorney as soon as possible. Contact the Nisar Law Group, P.C., today to schedule an initial consultation.