Really, It’s Not Discrimination When the Employee Is Not Doing Their Job


An employee who did not dispute the reasons for her termination nonetheless claimed that it was race and sex discrimination, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit disagreed.

In Ingram v. Arkansas Dept. of Correction, the employee was responsible for the hobby craft area, including the keys to the office and the cash used for supplies. After an inmate stole the keys and broke into the office, stealing the cash, the employee was terminated for a number of reasons including violation of employer policies, unsatisfactory work performance resulting in property damage, and false statements. She claimed, however, that white, male employees were not punished for similar misconduct.

To bring a claim of discrimination under Title VII, an employee must establish four factors: (1) that they belong to a protected group; (2) that they met their employer’s legitimate performance expectations; (3) that they suffered an adverse employment decision; and (4) that circumstances give rise to an inference of discrimination (such as by similarly-situated co-workers of a different group receiving better treatment). Here, the 8th Circuit found that the employee couldn’t meet the second and fourth factors – she was responsible for the keys and funds that were stolen, and she did not show that any other white, male employees were treated better than she. As the 8th Circuit noted, the other employees had to be “similarly situated in all respects,” which include things such as having the same supervisor, as well as engaging in the same type and degree of misconduct.

This case reiterates the common-sense principle that employees can be held accountable for failing to meet legitimate performance expectations, but we remind employers to be consistent in holding employees accountable. There would have been a very different result if the employee here were able to show that a white male who engaged in similar misconduct had not received the same discipline.