A Reminder That Any Employee Can Sue You at Any Time
Rule of thumb: Before you terminate, make sure that you are imposing similar punishment for similar misconduct to all employees.
Robinson essentially disputes that Klosterman’s reasoning was sufficient to justify his termination, and argues that Klosterman had a duty to investigate whether Robinson did in fact make a phone call to threaten and harass one of its female employees. Robinson maintains that since it is unproven whether this incident occurred, there is a genuine issue of material fact. Robinson, however, misstates the law. As noted above, an employer does not need to ensure that “no stone is unturned” during its investigation and decision making process, but must demonstrate only “reasonable reliance on the particularized facts that were before it at the time the decision was made.”
Case closed. Escalating misconduct = justifiable and defensible termination.
There is another lesson to teach here. The court ignored Robinson’s unsubstantiated claim that Klosterman treated more favorably white employees who committed more serious misconduct. Yes, you can fire any at-will employee for any reason, and, yes, that employee can sue you.
Before you terminate, however, make sure that you are imposing similar punishment for similar misconduct to all employees. Otherwise, you may convert a bona fide termination into a bona fide litigation headache.
Jon Hyman is a partner at Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis in Cleveland. To comment, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Hyman’s blog at Workforce.com/PracticalEmployer.