Do I have a case to file an unlawful termination lawsuit if I was treated differently than another employee for the same infraction?

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Do I have a case to file an unlawful termination lawsuit if I was treated differently than another employee for the same infraction?

I was fired for violation of company policy. I used the internet for personal use (there were no drugs or gaming involved) over a 2 week period despite the fact that I signed a document acknowledging the company policy on that issue. I have been an exemplary employee and promoted several times over the past 6 years – the last 2 years of which the policy has been in effect. However, earlier that morning a peer in a different department got suspended for the same violation over the same 2 week period. Shouldn’t I have received the same disciplinary action given we were both first offenses?

Asked on March 14, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, Tennessee

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

As a general matter, employers do NOT have to treat employees the same and may favor one while punishing another. That's because generally speaking, employees are employees at will, and employers may treat them pretty much however they like, for any reason. The law does not require fair treatment.

However, there are situations where an employer cannot treat an employee however it likes:

1) If the unequal treatment is due to a protected characteristic, such as sex, race, religion, age over 40, or disability; if it is, then that might be illegal discrimination.

2) If the employee has a contract or employment agreement, it's terms, including about suspension, etc., must be followed.

3) If there is a union or collective bargaining agreement.

4) If there is a very strong, very definitive employee handbook or other policy statement, which does not contain any caveats, exceptions, or reservations of right to change policy and treatement at will, that handbook or policy statement *may* be held to create an "implied contract" governing covered behavior.


IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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