Question: Since when is terminating an employee for drinking on the job grounds for a sex discrimination case?
Answer: When the employer applies its rules inconsistently, and disciplines a woman for drinking on the job more severely than it disciplines men for the same infraction.
A recent storyfrom San Francisco provides a very good reminder to employers: apply your policies consistently! Seems that the San Francisco Fire Chief, herself a woman, recently replaced San Francisco Fire Department’s zero tolerance for substance abuse with a new policy that considers each case on its own merits. Plaintiff (and former firefighter) Cynthia Childers has sued the Deparment for sex discrimination. Ms. Childers claims that after she was found to have been drinking on the job she was terminated, while “dozens” of male firefighters were sent to rehabilitation when they were caught drinking on the job. (Of course, whether her allegations are true remains to be determined.)
Does this mean that employers must enforce discipline rigidly, without considering the facts of each case? Not at all. What it does remind us, however, is that a failure to apply (even very good, justified) rules and discipline consistently, with “the punishment or corrective action” consistently fitting the infraction, can lead to claims of unlawful discrimination and attendant litigation costs.