Employees who complain about alleged discrimination are protected from retaliation for complaining. That protection, however, isn’t unlimited.
There’s a huge difference, for example, between an employee who calmly reports that he has been discriminated against and someone whose complaints sound more like threats of physical harm.
Employers are free to fire employees who yell, scream and threaten while complaining about alleged discrimination.
Recent case: Stanley Muhammad is black and worked as a freelance contract employee for an audiovisual services company. He claimed he had negotiated a pay schedule that included overtime for any hours over eight per day, as well as overtime for working more than 40 hours per week.
At some point, managers discovered that Muhammad was receiving daily overtime pay. The company believed this was the wrong way to calculate overtime.
Muhammad called HR and complained in what he described as “a passionate” voice that he was being discriminated against because he was black. The HR director later testified about the same conversation, claiming that Muhammad had yelled and told her she would “have to bear the brunt of any result of us not paying him.” She took that as a physical threat and fired him.
He sued, alleging retaliation for complaining.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case, reasoning that the threatening tone of his complaint was a legitimate termination reason. (Muhammad v. Audio Visual Services Group, No. 09-15332, 11th Cir., 2010)