An employee who claims he was discriminated against has to prove, among other things, that he was meeting his employer’s legitimate expectations at the time he was fired. Those expectations include behaving appropriately with co-workers. An incident or two of aggressive or disruptive behavior is reason enough to terminate an employee.
Simply put, you don’t have to put up with employees who can’t get along with others, raise their voices, slam doors and generally act as if they could explode into a rage at any moment. Those are legitimate firing offenses.
Recent case: Anthony, who is black, was hired as an intern in a federal career program. Internships last two years, with the first year being probationary.
Almost immediately, he got into an argument with another employee who was supposed to be his mentor. Anthony had demanded to know why he wasn’t selected to attend a training session. The mentor described Anthony’s behavior as “loud and aggressive” and ordered him to “step back” and leave the cubicle.
Anthony’s supervisor chalked up the incident to a personality conflict and moved Anthony to his next internship rotation. Shortly after the change, Anthony got into another argument, this time with a female co-worker. He demanded that she immediately make color copies of some documents. She said the cost wasn’t justified, which triggered an angry response. Anthony apparently thought she was setting him up to get in trouble, and yelled at her that she “had no right to put him on report.”
The final incident involved another female co-worker. Anthony claimed she spoke to him in a disrespectful tone. He then leaned in close to her face and yelled at her in front of other employees. He returned to his office where he was heard stomping around and slamming doors.
That was the last straw. Anthony was fired, and he sued, alleging race discrimination.
However, the court threw out his case. It reasoned that Anthony couldn’t win because he had not been meeting his employer’s reasonable expectations of getting along with others. His outbursts proved that. (Hill v. Johnson, No. 11-C-2144, ND IL, 2012)
Final notes: Anthony had also argued that after the final incident, his boss told him that his behavior was frightening to co-workers because he was “a big guy” who intimidated others. Anthony took this as a racial accusation—namely that he was frightening because he was a big, black guy. The court said that accusation had no basis because the supervisor never uttered the word “black” or any other term indicating that race was a factor that made Anthony intimidating.
The court also dismissed Anthony’s claims that he was punished more severely for his behavior than was the co-worker who allegedly spoke disrespectfully.
The different punishment, the court concluded, was completely justified. First, the co-worker apologized for her tone of voice. Second, this was not Anthony’s first confrontation with a co-worker; it was his third and arguably most serious incident. He yelled, slammed doors and stomped around, actions that frightened co-workers, including the woman who made him angry.
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