Good cause to act? Don’t wait to terminate

Sometimes, it’s smart to pull the termination trigger sooner rather than later. Waiting just gives the employee a chance to dig in—and plan a lawsuit.

Recent case: After gaining certification as an anesthesiologist, Dr. Adrian Gollas was accepted into a pediatric residency at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Problems surfaced almost immediately. Patients and nurses complained about his overly casual approach and lack of follow-through with patient care. A co-worker and a medical student also complained that Gollas made inappropriate comments to them and inappropriately touched them.

Meanwhile, other doctors noted that Gollas seemed to think he was “doing a magnificent job.”

Still, he was allowed to continue practicing. Then, as he approached the final year of his residency, Gollas got into a shouting match in the ER. The hospital denied Gollas the right to finish his residency there, effectively terminating him.

That’s when he sued, alleging he had complained about sexual harassment on behalf of a nurse in the ER.

He produced a letter he had alleg­­edly sent at the time to two super­­vis­ing doctors alleging the harassment. Neither could remem­ber receiving the letter and no one recalled any discussion about sexual harassment other than the complaints others had made about Gollas.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ended up dismissing the case, but only after considerable time and expense on the part of the university. (Gollas v. University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, No. 10-20365, 5th Cir., 2011)

Final note: As soon as it becomes clear that an employee is difficult and may not be a good fit, consult counsel on the best way to document the trouble and when to terminate. Sometimes, waiting only postpones the in­evitable.