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Yes, You Can Be Fired For Refusing To Work: The Tale of Rutledge’s Morning Standoff

by | Jul 27, 2023 | Disability Discrimination, Employment Discrimination, Employment Law, Family Medical Leave Claims, Federal Law Update, Retaliation, Wrongful Termination |

Welcome, dear readers, to a compelling discussion in the world of employment law. Today, our disability discrimination and FMLA attorneys delve into the intriguing case of Rutledge v. Board of County Commissioners of Johnson County, Kansas, where an employee’s refusal to work during his morning hours became the catalyst for an unfortunate termination. As an advocate for employees’ rights, I aim to highlight the crucial legal aspects of this case and offer hope to those facing similar challenges. Join me as we explore the facts surrounding Rutledge’s morning standoff and the complexities of Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) in protecting employee rights.

The Case of Rutledge:

Ron Rutledge, a dedicated employee at the Board of County Commissioners of Johnson County, Kansas, faced a series of unfortunate events after Jeremy McCracken became his supervisor. Soon after McCracken’s promotion, Rutledge suffered two work-related injuries, which led to various work restrictions, including limitations on lifting and physical tasks. He also had a history of taking leave under the FMLA and did again relating to these new injuries.

In September 2018, Rutledge informed McCracken that a ladder he used to perform truck checks, in compliance with his lifting restrictions, was missing. McCracken eventually replaced it with a rolling ladder, which required no lifting, accommodating Rutledge’s restrictions.

However, tensions escalated when Rutledge chose to sit in the breakroom during the first hour of the workday believing that other employees had been allowed to do so. Rutledge claimed that McCracken gave him permission to do so, but McCracken and George Cloud, the superintendent, contradicted this claim during the investigation. Rutledge claimed that forcing him to work during his first hour on the clock was further retaliation along with alleged comments about his work limitations and taking FMLA time off.

The County initiated two separate investigations—one into Rutledge’s harassment and retaliation complaint against McCracken and another into his alleged misconduct during the breakroom incident. The investigations concluded that there was no evidence to support Rutledge’s claims of harassment or retaliation.

The County fired Rutledge, who in turn sued for wrongful termination and employment discrimination.

Does the ADA and FMLA prevent retaliation by the employer?

Absolutely. Both the ADA and FMLA offer robust protections against employer retaliation. Under the ADA, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who assert their rights to reasonable accommodations for their disabilities. Similarly, the FMLA safeguards employees from retaliation for exercising their rights to take protected leave for medical reasons.

Best FMLA Lawyer Blogs on Point:

What is an adverse employment action?

An adverse employment action refers to any action taken by an employer that negatively impacts an employee’s terms or conditions of employment. This includes but is not limited to termination, demotion, suspension, reduction in pay or benefits, and significant changes in job responsibilities. But an adverse action for retaliation claims can also be based on any action taken by the employer that would make it less likely for an employee to engage in the same protected conduct.

Best Employment Retaliation Attorney Blogs on Point:

Can bad reviews be an adverse employment action?

Yes, bad reviews can indeed qualify as adverse employment actions if they are retaliatory in nature. If an employer gives an untrue or exaggeratedly negative performance review to an employee in response to asserting their rights under the ADA or FMLA, it could be considered retaliation and is against the law.

Best Disability Discrimination At Work Law Firm Blogs on Point:

Can an employer give a lower raise because an employee uses FMLA?

No, employers are expressly prohibited from penalizing employees for using FMLA leave by giving them lower raises or reduced compensation. Such retaliatory actions are unlawful and can result in legal consequences for the employer.

Best FMLA Attorney Blogs on Point:

Can an employee excuse insubordination because he has a disability or used FMLA?

While employees with disabilities or those who have used FMLA leave are entitled to reasonable accommodations, they are not exempt from complying with legitimate employer directives. Accommodations are meant to facilitate an employee’s ability to perform their job duties, not to excuse insubordination or other forms of misconduct.

In Rutledge v. Board of County Commissioners of Johnson County, Rutledge claimed that his morning breakroom sitting was approved. However, the County, through its decision-maker Kenneth Kellison, concluded that Rutledge’s assertion lacked credibility and was contradicted by other witnesses. As a result, the County terminated Rutledge for his refusal to work and perceived insubordination. The court found that the County’s decision, even if mistaken, did not demonstrate pretext. Rutledge failed to provide sufficient evidence that the County did not honestly hold the belief that he refused to work dishonestly.

Specifically, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit held:

To be sure, as Rutledge stresses, the County “knew he said he had permission from Cloud to sit in the breakroom after clocking in.” Aplt. Br. 49 (emphasis added). But the County—through Kellison, the decision-maker—concluded that Rutledge’s assertion (1) “was not credible on its face” and (2) “was contradicted by both … Cloud and … McCracken.” App. vol. 2, 166. And because the County did not believe that Cloud ever gave Rutledge such permission, it decided to fire Rutledge for his dishonesty and insubordinate refusal to work. Even if the County was mistaken, Rutledge presents no evidence suggesting that the County did not honestly hold that belief. At best, Rutledge faults the County for not accepting his side of the story. But that is simply not enough to show pretext. See Est. of Bassatt v. Sch. Dist. No. 1, 775 F.3d 1233, 1240 (10th Cir. 2014) (holding that employer’s “decision to believe [one employee] over [another], when there was no direct evidence either way, is not evidence of pretext”); Rivera v. City & Cnty. of Denver, 365 F.3d 912, 925 (10th Cir. 2004) (“Perhaps a reasonable factfinder could observe all the witnesses and believe [p]laintiff’s version of the events … [, but] that is not the issue.”).

Best Wrongful Termination Lawyer Blogs on Point:

What should I do if I’m being retaliated against for requesting a disability accommodation or using FMLA?

If you find yourself facing retaliation from your employer for asserting your rights under the ADA or FMLA, it is crucial to seek legal representation promptly. Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm specializes in employment law matters and has a team of experienced attorneys ready to advocate for your rights. We understand the complexities of employment law and are dedicated to protecting your best interests throughout the legal process.

In conclusion, Rutledge exemplifies the consequences of refusing to work and the importance of compliance with employer directives. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, remember the significance of adherence to workplace policies and regulations. Consult with a skilled employment lawyer to navigate your rights effectively, and with Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, you’ll have a passionate legal ally by your side, ready to protect your best interests.


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