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Punishing worker for loud complaint: Retaliation or legit insubordination penalty?

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,Human Resources

Employers obviously can’t punish employees simply because they complain about discrimination. That would be retaliation.

But that doesn’t mean you have to tolerate loud, obnoxious or disruptive complaints, no matter their content. That’s simply unacceptable in the workplace … and grounds for legal termination.

Recent case: Mildred Christmas, who is black, filed an internal complaint after she was passed over for a promotion in favor of a white man.

Soon after, Christmas’ new boss—the man who got the job she wanted—heard her complaining loudly about supposed racial bias. In a loud and angry tone—which she later admitted—Christmas stated, “This is the damnedest place I ever saw. They discriminate against black folks!”

The outburst earned her a written reprimand for unprofessional conduct.

She sued for retaliation. The court tossed out Christmas’ claim, saying her method of delivery was unacceptable and, therefore, the employer was free to punish her for her delivery, not the message.  

If she had been punished after making the statement in a normal tone of voice, it would have been retaliation. (Christmas v. North Carolina Department of Administration, No. 5:09-CV-346, ED NC, 2011)

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