If there’s one reason for firing an employee that’s likely to stand up in court, it’s insubordination.
Employers that carefully document an employee’s refusal to follow directions or listen to a supervisor’s reasonable instructions or rules are likely to win a lawsuit.
Recent case: Samuel, who is white, worked for a security firm that provided protection at JFK International Airport in New York. Trouble began when Samuel told his boss he didn’t want to work outside, allegedly be-cause Hispanic and other nonwhite workers got preferential assignments indoors.
But Samuel didn’t just protest—he tried to leave the premises by breaching a perimeter security door into a restricted area. That sounded an alarm, causing flights to be canceled. That triggered a Department of Homeland Security investigation, and Samuel was ultimately fired.
Samuel sued, but he didn’t contest the facts. He claimed his actions were justified because he believed he was being discriminated against when ordered to work outside. In effect, he was arguing that his boss made him so angry that he just couldn’t help himself; therefore, he wasn’t responsible for his insubordination.
The court didn’t buy his argument. It concluded that the security firm was free to fire Samuel for insubordination. His motivation wasn’t relevant—what counted were his actions. Samuel also tried to argue that because the decision-makers were Hispanic, their decision was tainted. The court rejected that argument, too. Because the decision-makers focused on behavior, their race wasn’t relevant. The case was dismissed. (Tuccio v. FJC Security Services, No. 12-CV-5506, ED NY, 2014)
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