The Seventh Circuit found an employee provided sufficient evidence of similarly situated employees and held the test is a flexible one.
The Postal Service terminated plaintiff after 32 years of employment as a clerk, claiming that it was because she told her psychiatrist she was having thoughts of killing her supervisor, and it believed she posed a danger to fellow employees. Plaintiff is an African-American woman. She claimed the Postal Service discriminated and retaliated against her. To support her claims, she proved that two white male employees at the same facility had recently threatened another employee at knife-point, yet received only one-week suspensions from the same manager who fired her. The district court granted the Postal Service summary judgment, holding that the two men were not comparators because they had different direct supervisors. The Seventh Circuit reversed.
The Seventh Circuit examined two questions (1) how alike must comparators be to be similarly-situated? and (2) can evidenced that a similarly situated employee received better treatment satisfy plaintiff's burden to show that the employer's reason for its action was pretexutal?
As to the first, the 7th Cir. stated that the similarly-situated inquiry is flexible, common-sense, and factual. Here there were enough common features for a meaningful comparison.
Further, the Court held that the evidence can show pretext. That evidence, in fact, is "especially relevant" to show protect. Therefore, a reasonable jury could infer, in light of all the circumstances, that an impermissible animus motivated the firing.