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Employee refuses to follow instructions? Courts won’t second-guess disciplinary decisions

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,Human Resources

Courts don’t want to second-guess every employment decision. They leave it up to employers to determine, for example, whether one rule violation is more serious than another. As the following case shows, employers are free to terminate employees who won’t listen.

Recent case: Kevin Harris, who is black, was selected for a deputy sheriff training program. Almost immediately, it became apparent to his supervisors that he didn’t take his work seriously. He put extra lights on his patrol car, extra badges on his uniform and generally ignored the rule book. Then, despite direct orders to follow the rules, he used his patrol car for personal business and took sick days off for suspicious reasons. He was terminated.

Then Harris sued, alleging that several white trainees committed worse offenses but weren’t fired.

He claimed one had a traffic accident because he was following a suspect too closely. He said another couldn’t seem to get his paperwork done ­correctly.

The court tossed out Harris’ case. It said it was up to the sheriff’s department to decide which offense was grounds for discharge, and that it would not decide for the employer. (Harris v. Warrick County, No. 10-3706, 7th Cir., 2012)

Final note: Harris also claimed he worked in a racially hostile environment. His evidence? That several deputies watched part of Mel Brooks’ classic farce “Blazing Saddles” at work. The court pointed out that the movie doesn’t encourage stereotyping; it satirizes it.

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