Sometimes, employers fire employees for the wrong reasons and end up in litigation. Then, while preparing to defend against the wrongful-termination case, they discover other—perhaps even better—reasons to have terminated the employee.
Don’t ignore the new evidence. Instead, make sure your attorneys know about it. They can then argue to the court that you would have fired the employee anyway, had you known then what you know now.
The court may not dismiss the employee’s entire lawsuit, but chances are good it won’t order you to rehire her or pay for future lost wages. That can substantially limit your liability.
Recent case: Leeann Martuch worked in the HR office when she befriended another HR manager. When that manager was fired, Martuch encouraged her to sue for age discrimination.
Martuch was then discharged and she sued, alleging she had been fired for supporting her former colleague’s age discrimination lawsuit, in violation of the Michigan Civil Rights Act.
Then her former employer discovered that Martuch had downloaded, printed and copied official HR files before she was shown the door. The company said that was grounds for discharge, since HR files are confidential.
The court said the company could use that as evidence it would have fired Martuch anyway, regardless of whether it had fired her for illegal reasons in the first place. The evidence may mean that if the company loses the lawsuit, it still won’t have to rehire Martuch or pay her for future lost wages. (Martuch v. St. Mary’s Medical Center, No. 274267, Court of Appeals of Michigan, 2008)
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