Alleged Inconsistencies In Applying Lock-out/Tag-out Violations Open Up Company To Race Discrimination Case

An employee responsible for plant maintenance was terminated by a manufacturing company after the employee allegedly violated a “zero-tolerance” policy for failing to properly apply the company’s lock-out/tag-out procedures to the plant’s equipment.  In the plant, each maintenance employee is issued an individual lock with the employee’s lock number and when multiple employees are working on a piece of equipment, they use a “group lock” on the breaker for that area and attached their individual locks to the group lock.  When the plant manager discovered that four employees were working on a piece of equipment and that the group lock only had three individual locks, he inquired.  A fourth individual lock was lying the ground and it was identified as the plaintiff’s.  Following a meeting with the plaintiff, the plant manager fired the plaintiff for violation of the plant’s zero-tolerance policy for failing to adhere to the lock-out/tag-out procedures.

The plaintiff then filed suit against the company on the grounds that he was allegedly terminated because of his race.  Earlier this week, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia denied the defendant company’s motion for summary judgment and the case will proceed to trial.  The court found that the plaintiff presented a prima facie case because the plaintiff introduced evidence showing that two Caucasian males (the plaintiff is African-American) violated the same policy at the same plant but were not terminated.  For this same reason, the court also concluded that the plaintiff sufficiently raised genuine issues of material fact as to whether the defendant company’s stated reason for the plaintiff’s termination was credible.

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