Co-workers guilty of less egregious policy violations are not "similarly situated" to plaintiff
Source: Kelley Drye & Warren LLP, by Michael E. Rigney, Esq.
Katherine Weber had been employed at Universities Research Association (URA) for almost twenty years when she received a negative performance review. She believed the review was unfair and filed a grievance.
The grievance was ultimately resolved in her favor and the negative review was removed from her record. Weber claims that a number of bad things began to happen to her after the grievance, ultimately including the elimination of her position in early 2004.
She accepted another position with the organization under a new supervisor. Weber had difficulty with her new supervisor from the beginning. She complained that she was the victim of retaliation and that her new supervisor treated her differently than other employees. Her supervisor complained that she was not getting her work completed and became suspicious of her computer usage. URA decided to monitor her Internet usage.
The results of its trace showed that Weber spent more than 16 hours in one workweek visiting websites unrelated to her work. Her usage included accessing dog-related sites and her personal e-mail accounts in connection with her dog training business.
URA terminated Weber's employment for violating its policies: a) requiring disclosure and authorization of outside employment and b) prohibiting the use of URA computer equipment in connection with outside employment. Weber brought suit pursuant to Title VII for gender discrimination and retaliation. Judge Andersen (N.D. Ill.) granted summary judgment to URA. Weber appeals.
In their opinion Judges Bauer, Kanne, and Tinder affirmed. The Court first concluded that Weber waived both claims under the direct method of proof by not sufficiently developing them in the district court. Since Weber does not challenge the district court's decision with respect to the retaliation claim under the indirect method, the only other issue before the Court was the discrimination claim under the indirect method. Weber attempted to meet the "similarly situated" element of her prima facie case by identifying a number of male co-workers who had unauthorized outside employment, who accessed the Internet for personal and outside employment use, and who accessed the Internet to view pornography.
The Court concluded that Weber did not meet the "similarly situated" element. To meet that requirement, she must identify employees who engaged in similar conduct in the absence of circumstances that would distinguish their conduct from hers.
The Court acknowledged that she identified multiple instances of policy violations but distinguished those violators. Weber presented no evidence that the violators had trouble finishing their work or that any of them violated a company policy "with the same reckless abandon" as Weber.
Weber v Universities Research Association (September 2, 2010). The full text of this 7th Circuit ruling is posted on the Internet at: http://www.intheiropinion.com/uploads/file/weber.pdf
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