Advertisement

July 22, 2014

Reason for Separation? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Reason! (Or, do we?) Re: Employee Termination

Client: “I want to fire my employee.”

Attorney: “Why?”

Client: “Because I’ve had it. I can’t deal with this employee anymore.”

Attorney: “I understand, but why?” 

Client: “Why? Why?! Because I’ve had it. I’ve just had it. Besides, this is an at-will state and I can fire someone at my will…” (Client’s voice rises) “I don’t need a reason!”

The lessons embedded in this dialogue amount to a full-day seminar, but for purposes of this blog, let’s focus on the “reasons” for firing employees. First, in general, we all know that it’s good practice to have a documented, well-supported reason when making a decision to terminate an employee’s job. Even if it’s not technically required in an employment-at-will state.

Second, the reason—whatever it is—should be clear. This particular lesson is underscored by a recent Seventh Circuit decision, Hitchcock v. Angel Corps, Inc., a case in which the Court overturned a summary judgment decision in favor of the employer, because as far as the Seventh Circuit was concerned, there were too many inconsistent reasons for her firing.

In the Hitchcock case, the plaintiff sued her former employer for pregnancy discrimination.  Officially, she was fired for signing up an elderly woman for home care services after the woman had passed away. During discovery, she located several documents which highlighted the employer’s internal inconsistencies about her firing. Although the trial court described it as a “mere quibble over language, and not evidence of a lie,” the Seventh Circuit panel counted “at least four potentially different explanations given forHitchcock’s firing.”

You already know what happened next. The Seventh Circuit said it found “these shifting explanations to be sufficiently inconsistent or otherwise suspect to create a reasonable inference that they do not reflect the real reason for Hitchcock’s firing.” That, coupled with “suspicious timing” linking her pregnancy and alleged change in treatment, the Seventh Circuit reversed the trial court: “We leave it to a jury to decide whom to believe.”  

So, Client, you’re right. You don’t need a reason. But, it’s a good idea to have one anyway. And whatever the reason, make sure it’s clear.

© 2014 BARNES & THORNBURG LLP

About the Author

Jeanine Gozdecki, Labor and Employment, Attorney, Barnes Thornburg, Law firm
Partner

Jeanine M. Gozdecki is a partner in the Labor & Employment Department in the firm's South Bend, Indiana office. 

574-237-1277

Boost: AJAX core statistics

Legal Disclaimer

You are responsible for reading, understanding and agreeing to the National Law Review's (NLR’s) and the National Law Forum LLC's  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy before using the National Law Review website. The National Law Review is a free to use, no-log in database of legal and business articles. The content and links on www.NatLawReview.com are intended for general information purposes only. Any legal analysis, legislative updates or other content and links should not be construed as legal or professional advice or a substitute for such advice. No attorney-client or confidential relationship is formed by the transmission of information between you and the National Law Review website or any of the law firms, attorneys or other professionals or organizations who include content on the National Law Review website. If you require legal or professional advice, kindly contact an attorney or other suitable professional advisor.  

Some states have laws and ethical rules regarding solicitation and advertisement practices by attorneys and/or other professionals. The National Law Review is not a law firm nor is www.NatLawReview.com  intended to be  a referral service for attorneys and/or other professionals. The NLR does not wish, nor does it intend, to solicit the business of anyone or to refer anyone to an attorney or other professional.  NLR does not answer legal questions nor will we refer you to an attorney or other professional if you request such information from us. 

Under certain state laws the following statements may be required on this website and we have included them in order to be in full compliance with these rules. The choice of a lawyer or other professional is an important decision and should not be based solely upon advertisements. Attorney Advertising Notice: Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Statement in compliance with Texas Rules of Professional Conduct. Unless otherwise noted, attorneys are not certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, nor can NLR attest to the accuracy of any notation of Legal Specialization or other Professional Credentials.

The National Law Review - National Law Forum LLC 4700 Gilbert Ave. Suite 47 #230 Western Springs, IL 60558  Telephone  (708) 357-3317 If you would ike to contact us via email please click here.