Have you tiptoed around an employee’s poor behavior because he belongs to a protected class, such as race, gender, age or disability? You don’t have to tolerate rudeness, threats or other disruptive acts.
Just make sure you have clear rules in place and enforce them equally against everyone who breaks them. And remember: You have an obligation to provide a workplace free of violence.
Recent case: William McDaniel, who is black, became enraged when he was called into an investigative meeting addressing fraudulent use of timecards among employees of the borough of North Caldwell. Although no one planned to accuse McDaniel of anything, investigators didn’t have time to explain that before McDaniel became agitated and angry. He shoved the main office door open and shouted at his supervisor, at times using profanity.
The borough’s collective bargaining agreement listed such behavior as a “major offense,” and McDaniel received an eight-month suspension. Apparently, the time off didn’t cool his temper because a few months after returning, he ignored a supervisor’s order and again became loud and disruptive. The borough fired him a few days later, right after the local police department told the employer that McDaniel had been arrested for the illegal possession of a handgun.
McDaniel sued, alleging he had been targeted because he is black and in retaliation for having filed previous EEOC complaints.
But he didn’t get very far. The employer pointed to a very legitimate reason for discharge—repeated disruptive behavior—and McDaniel couldn’t point to a single person of any race who had been treated more favorably for the same or similar offenses.
The court dismissed the case. (McDaniel v. Borough of North Caldwell, et al., No. 05-5865, DC NJ, 2007)