Before you decide to change the reason why you discharged a worker, consider the possible impact of a potential lawsuit.
For example, if an employee is fired soon after an alleged act of sexual harassment and you later change the reason, a court could consider that evidence that it was just a pretext—an excuse to get rid of the employee. Such a shifting explanation will almost certainly be viewed suspiciously.
Recent case: Leroy went on a business trip to Atlantic City with his boss Christine. He later alleged that she invited him to her hotel room and tried to lure him into a sexual relationship. He said he rejected her advances.
When he returned to work after the incident, he was terminated, allegedly for theft. Later, the employer changed the discharge reason, saying Leroy had been fired for fighting, behaving disruptively and being unprofessional.
Leroy sued. He recounted months of sexual harassment at work before the proposition in Atlantic City. He alleged he was fired in retaliation for refusing to succumb to Christine’s advances.
The court said his case could go forward based in part on timing—the discharge occurred so soon after the alleged sexual proposition. Plus, the court said Leroy could use the shifting explanation for his firing as additional evidence that the real reason he was fired was because he refused to engage in sexual activity with Christine. (Byrd, et al., v. Elwyn & Elwyn, No. 16-02275, ED PA, 2016)
Final note: Two other male employees had also alleged that Christine propositioned and sexually harassed them. She allegedly commented on male anatomy—suggesting that some of the men were “really packing”—and generally engaged in sexually suggestive commentary. Remember, sexual harassment doesn’t always involve male-on-female harassment.
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