Manager’s insubordination wins protection

Jane Foster had a tough decision: Follow the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or follow her boss's orders. She went with the ADA and got fired. But a court has ruled in her favor, saying it's OK for a manager to be insubordinate as long as she has the law behind her. Here are the details:

Foster was a customer service supervisor at Time Warner. One of her reps suffered night seizures that made it hard for him to arrive on time in the morning. On those days, Foster let this worker put in extra hours at night to compensate.

When other workers complained about this special treatment, the office manager issued a new sick leave policy that barred employees from making up time because of illness. Foster complained that the policy violated the ADA, but the office manager wouldn't budge, saying, "We don't have to follow the ADA."

Foster ignored the new policy and let the disabled employee continue to work a flexible schedule. When this was discovered, both she and the employee were fired.

Foster sued for retaliation, and a jury awarded her $136,000 in punitive damages. The court said an employee is protected under the ADA when she opposes a company's action based on a reasonable belief that her employer discriminated or when she refuses to implement a discriminatory policy. (Foster v. Time Warner Entertainment Co., No. 00-2734, 8th Cir., 2001)

Advice: Beware of this ADA threat. If there's disagreement about your company's accommodation efforts, you're exposed not only to liability from the employee who raises the complaint but potential retaliation charges from employees who disagree with your policy.

When disagreement crops up, step back and check what you're doing. Talk with an attorney before firing or disciplining managers who are ignoring your policy. Firing an insubordinate employee can be considered retaliatory, especially by juries.