Recent Rulings: Wrongful Termination
An employer was barred from refusing to hire an employee on the basis of his prior conviction for the use of drugs because it was unable to show a "rational relationship" between the conviction and the job description. In Shimose v. Hawaii Health Systems Corp. (Hawaii Supreme Court, Jan. 16, 2015), the Hawaii Supreme Court held that the employer had not shown that the conviction- and the behaviors that the employer stated that it was afraid the applicant would exhibit- were related to the job. For example, the employer stated that it was afraid that the employee would steal pharmaceuticals and needles. The court held that the position for which the plaintiff applied- a radiological technician- did not regularly have access to drugs and that therefore, the risk was low and the employer should not have rejected the employee's application.
A federal judge in Texas recently held that the claim of an employer against an employee for breach of contract should be allowed to go to a jury instead of being dismissed. In Cellular Accessories for Less, Inc. v. Trinitas, LLC, (Sept. 16, 2014) an employee of Cellular's was fired from his job and then started his own competing company. The employer sued the former employee, claiming that he had taken trade secrets with him after he had signed an agreement stating that he would not do so. Central to this case was the employee's use of LinkedIn: he maintained a list of contacts made up mainly of the former employer's customers. The employer argued that this list was a "trade secret" because it had spent considerable time and effort developing the list, including making cold calls to determine the customers' communications needs. The court held that there were factual questions in the case and that it should go to trial.
In Abbey v. Giffords, 2013 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1992 (September 6, 2013), a nanny sued her former employer for wrongful termination after she was fired for reporting to the employer's ex-husband and his lawyer that the employer intended to falsely accuse the ex-husband of sexually abusing their daughter. In the lawsuit, the nanny claimed that she was fired in contravention of an important public policy of the State of Connecticut, i.e., telling the truth in court. The court agreed and held that the nanny's termination also violated an important public policy of reporting abuse to children, as the mother/employer had taught the child some sadly inappropriate language and concepts to further her unlawful scheme. The court allowed the nanny to go forward with her wrongful termination claim after the employer moved to dismiss it.
The Connecticut Appellate Court recently refused to rule in favor of an employer who unlawfully required an employee to submit to a drug test. Connecticut law (Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 31-51x) states that an employer may not require an employee to submit to a drug test without "reasonable suspicion" that the employee is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In this case, the employer told the employee that he would be terminated if he did not submit to a drug test. The employee eventually agreed to take the test, even though a physician examining him stated that the test was unnecessary because he passed field sobriety tests. The court held that even though the employee did not end up taking the test, the employer still violated the law.
Tomick v. United Parcel Service, 2012 WL 1700243 (Conn. App. May 12, 2012).
The Connecticut Appellate Court recently held that the case of an employee who was terminated after she refused to make unethical phone calls as directed by her boss should not have been thrown out. In this case, the employee was told by her boss to make calls to the company’s competitors seeking information and pretending to be someone else. The employee refused and was then given bad reviewed and terminated. The Appellate Court held that there was enough evidence, in this case, to go to trial and that the lower court should not have dismissed the case.
Li v. Canberra Industries, 134 Conn. App. 448 (March 27, 2012) (Beach, J.).
A trial judge in Connecticut has held that an employee claiming that her employer breached an unwritten contract by terminating her may carry on with her case after her former employer moved to dismiss the case. In this case, the employee worked for a company for 31 years. The employer had a policy of terminating employees’ employment on the basis of seniority but ignored the policy when it terminated the plaintiff. The judge stated that the plaintiff had alleged enough facts to move forward with her case.
Lopes v. Hubbell Inc., 2012 WL 1292601 (Conn. Super. March 23, 2012) (Ozalis, J.).