Is inconsistency ever justified?

Harry Markham, a maintenance department painter, had been caught with a roll of tape in his lunch box, by the guard upon clocking out. When he appeared at the time clock the next day, he found his timecard missing.
By Raymond Dreyfack December 1, 1999

Harry Markham, a maintenance department painter, had been caught with a roll of tape in his lunch box, by the guard upon clocking out. When he appeared at the time clock the next day, he found his timecard missing.

“What gives?” he asked his supervisor apprehensively.

“You’ve been terminated for theft of company assets,” Foreman Pete Russo replied. “You’ll get your final check in the mail.”

Markham was flabbergasted. “Big deal,” he protested. “A lousy roll of tape. I was planning to replace it.”

“Stealing is stealing. Read the policy manual. Petty theft is grounds for dismissal the same as grand larceny.”

“Hey, gimme a break. I’m a 20-yr employee of this company, plus that, I’m 59-yr old. Where could I get another job at this age?”

“You should have thought about that before swiping the tape.”

Desperate, Markham went over his boss’ head and appealed to Plant Engineer Phil Gold.

Question: In Gold’s shoes, what would your decision be?

Gold’s ruling: “Reinstate the employee,” Gold instructed the supervisor. “I’ll grant that going strictly by the book you’re entitled to fire him. But in view of Markham’s age, long service, and outstanding work record, I’d recommend a final warning and 5-day suspension instead. Even the best rules justify an exception from time-to-time.”