You don’t have to put up with insubordination

Employees who file discrimination complaints sometimes end up with a chip on their shoulders while the complaint is pending. And since they know it’s illegal for employers to retaliate against them, they’re on the lookout for anything that seems like punishment.

But that doesn’t mean employers have to shy away from disciplining those employees when it’s deserved. That’s especially true if the employee ignores legitimate work requests—because that’s insubordination.

Recent case: Miriam Grice was promoted from a part-time to a full-time position with a state agency, but the job she landed wasn’t the one she wanted. She suspected the reason: She had walked in on a supervisor and another employee in what she called “a compromising position.”

Suspecting retaliation, Grice filed an EEOC complaint.

The agency then had her report to a different supervisor pending the outcome of the complaint. When that supervisor called her into a meeting, Grice saw what she thought were disciplinary papers on the desk. She said she wouldn’t meet unless her attorney was there.

The new supervisor told her he would reschedule the meeting, but also told her to take the disciplinary papers with her so that when they reconvened, they would all be able to discuss the matter intelligently. When Grice refused to take the paperwork and left, she was fired for insubordination.

She sued, alleging retaliation.

But the court said she didn’t have a case because her employer had a legitimate reason to fire her—insubordination. The court pointed out that employees aren’t free to disregard legitimate work-related requests just because there is an EEOC complaint pending. Absent some other evidence that the alleged insubordination was just a pretext for termination, the discipline was legitimate. (Grice v. Baltimore County, No. 09-1047, 4th Cir., 2009)