Ohio’s Fifth Appellate District recently handed down a decision relevant to all Ohio employers. Caiazza v. Mercy Med. Ctr., 2014-Ohio-2290 (Ohio Ct. App. 2014) highlights the importance of treating all employees equally, regardless of whether that employee falls within a protected class.
The case concerned a former male employee, Caiazza, and a female co-worker, Jones, who were taking a smoke break off company property. After the break, Jones reported to her employer and police that Caiazza had touched her inappropriately. Caiazza strongly disputed Jones’ report, and claimed that the interaction had been consensual, and that Jones had actually initiated the incident by inviting Caiazza to touch her. Caiazza claimed that Jones only decided to report Caiazza after he refused to enter into an ongoing relationship with her.
The employer responded to the incident by terminating Caiazza, but did not discipline Jones.
Caiazza brought suit against his former employer alleging reverse gender discrimination, arguing that the employer had simply accepted Jones’ allegations as true without further examination. In deciding to fire Caiazza, the employer cited the employee’s lack of good judgment, but did acknowledge the consensual nature of the encounter and both employees’ shared responsibility for the incident.
The Fifth District found summary judgment to be improper for the employer, finding that “one could argue the facts on their own establish disparate treatment” against the male employee. This holding presents an example of how an employer can easily fall into the trap of taking one employee’s allegations over another’s, and should serve as a reminder for employers to conduct thorough investigations and ensure that all parties are treated equally – regardless of whether they are members of a protected group or the majority.