Here’s good news for supervisors who are afraid of making the wrong disciplinary decision: Employers don’t have to be right every time about the underlying reasons for disciplinary action. Instead, what counts is acting in good faith.
Recent case: Jorge Ruiz was a mental-health worker who got good reviews and earned a promotion. Shortly after the promotion, a patient accused him of sexual assault and he was suspended with pay, pending an investigation. Ultimately, he was reinstated because the investigator concluded the patient’s allegations weren’t credible.
Later, two co-workers accused Ruiz of sexual harassment. Then he accused them of having inappropriate relationships with patients. Then yet another patient accused Ruiz of raping her. Those charges were also dismissed.
Ruiz was fired, ostensibly because he had failed to report his co-workers’ relationships with patients before they accused him of sexual harassment and because of his history of being accused.
He sued, claiming he had been singled out for termination because he was Hispanic.
The court dismissed his case. It reasoned that while Ruiz might be able to prove that he was fired because his employer falsely believed he had abused patients, that didn’t make the decision to terminate him illegal. An employer can be honestly wrong.
Ruiz wasn’t fired because he was Hispanic, but because his employer thought he was trouble. (Ruiz v. County of Rockland, No. 09-0759, 2nd Cir., 2010)
- How to Fire an Employee the Legal Way: 6 Termination Guidelines
- Employee takes false allegations to the press? You can sue for defamation
- Your new litigation danger: Conspiracy charges against rogue managers
- Can deciding not to discipline lead to court?
- Prompt corrective action limits harassment liability