OK to fire for insubordination, even if employee has filed discrimination complaint

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,Human Resources

Employees who intentionally don’t follow directions are in­­sub­­ordinate. That means you can fire them—even if they recently filed discrimination charges. Just be sure you can justify your action.

Recent case: Dexter Holmes, who is black, worked for a J.C. Penney store and applied for two promotions to management. In each case, a white employee got the jobs. Holmes complained to the EEOC.

Shortly after, Holmes was told he needed to sign an acknowledgment outlining workplace rules. He refused and was subsequently terminated for insubordination.

Holmes sued, alleging race discrimination and retaliation.

J.C. Penney argued that it hadn’t discriminated simply by promoting a white candidate. The court agreed that Holmes needed more evidence that discrimination played a part.

The mere fact that Holmes was black and the selected candidates were white was not enough. He’d have to show more: specific examples of racial bias, a racially hostile work environment or that he was eminently more qualified than the selected workers.

Plus, the court said Holmes hadn’t shown that the store’s stated reason for termination was false. Holmes had refused to sign the workplace rules acknowledgment, which J.C. Penney had a right to demand. (Holmes v. J.C. Penney, No. 5:09-CV-115, WD NC, 2011)

Final note: Employers have the right to get their employees’ signatures on workplace rules. This wasn’t a case of asking an employee to sign an arbitration agreement or other substantial changes to the job.

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