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An employee failed to prove that his unpaid two-week suspension constituted disparate treatment, an Oklahoma federal court ruled in dismissing the employee’s discrimination suit.
An Oklahoma board of county commissioners suspended a black employee, Chester Pratt, without pay for two weeks in October of 2012 for his alleged failure to properly maintain a government vehicle.
Because white employees in a similar but unrelated vehicle maintenance episode were not disciplined, Pratt filed suit in federal district court alleging racial discrimination. Both incidents involved oil changes on county trucks.
The county promptly filed a motion to dismiss Pratt’s case for lack of evidence. As the court noted, to survive the motion Pratt would have to establish three elements: that he is a member of a protected class, that he suffered an adverse employment action and that there was disparate treatment among similarly situated employees.
Having met the first two elements, Pratt argued there was disparate treatment in that white workers who recently committed the same violation faced no adverse employment action. Pratt also alleged that his immediate supervisor harbored racial animus and treated him and other black employees less favorably.
The county, however, presented evidence that while the white workers initially had been accused of failing to change the oil and oil filters on a county truck, those workers recovered the exhausted filter and empty oil cans from a dumpster as proof that the truck had been properly serviced. As a result, the county considered the matter resolved and pursued no further disciplinary action.
In Pratt’s case, the used filter was never removed from the vehicle, and the new filter was discovered in a trash barrel, apparently discarded in an attempt to conceal that the work had not been performed. The county said it chose the two-week suspension because of Pratt’s prior disciplinary record and the fact he openly complained about servicing vehicles.
Other testimony disclosed that Pratt’s supervisor played little if any role in the incident. The alleged violation was investigated by an HR official who independently determined how Pratt should be disciplined.
Ultimately, the court found that Pratt fell short of proving his claim. “In short, the court finds that plaintiff has failed to present evidence that would permit a reasonable fact finder to infer pretext, entitling the county to summary judgment on all of plaintiff’s discrimination claims.”
The court granted the county’s motion to dismiss the case.
Pratt v. Bd. of County Comm'rs, W.D. Okla., No. CIV-13-1210-R (Dec. 15, 2014).
Kirk Rafdal, J.D., is a staff writer for SHRM.
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