Monday, June 9, 2014

Equal treatment in workplace misconduct helps avoid an ugly discrimination claim

Matthew Caiazza worked as a nurse at Mercy Medical Center. He would often take smoke breaks with Jennifer Jones, a food services worker.

On August 28, 2010, Jones reported to her supervisor that during one of the smoke breaks, Caiazza had inappropriately touched her breast outside of her clothing. Caiazza explained that Jones asked him to touch her breast in exchange for Vicodin. When he told her that he could not give her any Vicodin, she said he could touch her breast anyway, which he did. Jones reported the incident to HR, who compelled Caiazza to resign. He sued, alleging, among other claims, sex discrimination.

In Caiazza v. Mercy Medical Center (6th Cir. 5/27/14), the appellate court concluded that because of the unequal treatment doled out to the two culpable parties, Caiazza’s sex discrimination claim should proceed to a jury trial. 
Given … Mercy’s concession that the sexual contact during [Caiazza’s] smoke break off property was consensual, there is a clear disparity of treatment between [Caiazza] and Jones.

Parties who are equally culpable in workplace misconduct should be treated equally. If the parties are of different sexes, races, ages (substantially younger), etc., then the “should” turns into a “must.” Disparate treatment is, well, disparate treatment, which, as this case points out is a Title VII no-no.