Smart employers try to fix discrimination and harassment problems right away. But sometimes the complaining employee wants more than the employer is willing to give and simply gets angry.
If anger turns into insubordination, you can discipline without fear of losing a lawsuit.
Recent case: Jose, who is black, worked as a driver for a medical supply company. One day, he walked into the main facility and saw a piece of string tied like a noose and hanging on a co-worker’s bulletin board. Jose thought it was a racially hostile gesture.
Jose first complained to another co-worker, who suggested taking it up with the co-worker who put the string on the board. Then he wrote a formal complaint letter to the company. That sparked an investigation and the immediate removal of the offensive string.
At HR’s direction, Jose then met with the area director to discuss his complaint. The director suggested that an appropriate action would be to offer sensitivity training to employees and explain why the noose was offensive. Jose disagreed. He wanted someone fired.
Jose later called the area director to follow up, reiterating that he thought the incident warranted a termination. She again explained she was going to hold a diversity training session, but wouldn’t be firing anyone.
Apparently angry, Jose began to ignore email and voice mail messages from his other supervisors. The area director then told Jose he needed to meet with her. He refused—and was fired.
He sued, alleging he had been fired in retaliation for complaining about the noose.
The company explained it fired him because he refused to come to a meeting. The court dismissed his lawsuit, concluding that his termination was for insubordination, not retaliation. (Davis v. Omni-Care, No. 10-3806, 6th Cir., 2012)
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