As employment law attorneys, we regularly are encounter situations in which employees believe that they were not treated equally, in respect to their fellow coworkers. What few people employees realize, however, is that the complained about treatment must be applied unequally based upon one’s inclusion in a protected class of people (race, gender, national origin, age, etc) and the unequally treated employees must be similarly situated. The “similarly situated” component to disparate treatment lawsuits essentially means that employees can be held to different performance standards and discipline depending on their managerial level and/or job responsibilities. This legal form of unequal treatment was recently upheld by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (Ohio).
In Martinez v. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc., the Sixth Circuit upheld the dismissal of a Cracker Barrel manager’s reverse race discrimination case when she was terminated for engaging in the exact same behavior as three African American employees. The three African American employees were not terminated, and the plaintiff, Mary Martinez, based her lawsuit primarily on circumstantial evidence that the failure to also fire her subordinate employees constituted reverse race discrimination. The company moved for summary judgment, arguing no reasonable jury could conclude the reason for the disparate treatment was race, because the reason was that supervisors are held to a higher standard, and Martinez was the only supervisor involved in the conduct. The court agreed, holding that the non-supervisory employees were not similarly situated to Martinez. Accordingly, their differing treatment is not circumstantial evidence of discrimination because of race. The court of appeal therefore upheld the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the company.
This case reaffirms that managerial employees may be held to higher standards than the employees which they supervise, and it provides a clear example of how employers may treat some of their employees unequally without breaking the law.
If you even think that your employment rights have been violated or that you might need an employment lawyer, then call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation at (216) 271-3742. The Spitz Law Firm is dedicated to protecting employees’ rights and solving employment disputes.
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