Despite complaint, unreasonable demands may merit firing

An employer often bends over backward when an employee says she’s been harassed. It feels compelled to treat the complaining employee with kid gloves to avoid possible retaliation charges. That may be a mistake, especially if the employee becomes disruptive and generally uncooperative.

Employees don’t get free passes to behave badly simply because they file discrimination claims. Employers can and should treat those employees just as they would anyone else.

Recent case: Pamela Fye worked first as director of personnel and then as director of administration for a state agency. Then a new general administrator arrived on the scene with orders to reorganize and downsize the agency due to budget problems.

The administrator was particularly concerned about possible sexual harassment at the agency, and found out Fye had previously filed a harassment complaint. He asked Fye about her experience on at least four occasions.

Fye felt the questions themselves amounted to more harassment and complained higher up. Meanwhile, she began having arguments with other superiors about how the department should be reorganized. Finally, one day, after walking out of an argumentative meeting, she sent an angry memo demanding that any subsequent meetings have at least one additional person present.

A few days later, she was fired. The agency administrator explained that her demands would make it difficult to complete the reorganization work under a tight deadline and would not be efficient. Fye sued, alleging retaliation for her earlier harassment complaint.

But the 10th Circuit said the agency had a legitimate reason for firing her. Fye presented no evidence indicating the reason was a pretext to get rid of her for reporting alleged harassment. (Fye v. Oklahoma Corporation Commission, et al., No. 06-6307, 10th Cir., 2008)