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Charging insubordination? Line up witnesses

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

When you fire a difficult em­­ployee, there’s a good chance he or she will remain a thorn in your side. It pays to prepare, especially if you end up terminating her for something subjective like insubor­­dination.

Always aim to document the incident that prompted the firing by gathering as many eyewitness accounts as possible. You may need those statements if she sues.

Recent case: Wendy, who is black, worked as a registered nurse for a medical facility. She didn’t get along well with some of her co-workers.

The incident that prompted her firing was well documented. She was discharged a day after she was sent home early from work for allegedly refusing to comply with a supervisor’s order regarding scheduling.

According to the testimony from those involved, a supervising nurse told another nurse to relieve Wendy for lunch at 11:30 a.m. Wendy allegedly refused to be relieved, claiming that she wanted to take her lunch at noon.

Things quickly escalated. Wendy allegedly slammed a book down when the supervisor again told her to take lunch. According to the witnesses, Wendy then said something like, “What part of what I just said do you not understand?” Wendy later claimed that the supervisor then treated her like an “angry black woman” and pointed at her while yelling about scheduling breaks.

Wendy sued, alleging race discrimination.

She didn’t get far after the court heard from everyone who had been part of the incident. The court refused to consider Wendy’s subjective feeling she was being treated poorly when others described her behavior as clearly insubordinate and inappropriate. (Campbell v. Correctional Medical Care, No. 14-CV-6136, WD NY, 2014)

Advice: Gather witness statements right away, while memories are still fresh.

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