It’s always OK to fire for insubordination

Some employees just aren’t team players. In some jobs, that doesn’t really matter. But in others, it does—and employers have the right to expect employees to get along with others, including their supervisors. If they can’t or won’t, it’s perfectly legal to terminate for insubordination.

Recent case: Sahran, a black woman, worked as a surgical technician at a hospital. She earned her nursing degree and was promoted to operating room nurse, contingent on passing the state nursing exam. She got a raise with the promotion. But Sahran failed the exam, and she was demoted to her old technician position. How­­ever, due to a payroll error, her pay remained the same.

Then Sahran complained to HR that she heard a co-worker refer to another black employee as “n***** bitch.” The offending employee was terminated.

Shortly after, Sahran’s pay was reduced when someone noticed she was still being incorrectly compensated at the higher grade.

Meanwhile, Sahran got into an argument with her supervisor about whether Sahran had sent a text message to another terminated employee in which she claimed the employee previously fired for using the derogatory language was back at work. (That wasn’t the case.) Sahran was told to take a day off as a “decision day”—either recommit to being a team player or face termination.

Sahran agreed to shape up, but then got into an argument with someone in HR. She was finally fired for inappropriate and un­­pro­­fessional conduct.

She sued, alleging that her pay cut and firing were the result of retaliation for reporting the racial slur.

The court disagreed and ac­­cepted the hospital’s explanation that it didn’t discover the pay mistake until after Sahran had complained and that it fired her for insubordination after giving her a chance to recommit. (Robin­­son v. Our Lady of the Lake, No. 12-31282, 5th Cir., 2013)