Articles Posted in Wrongful Termination

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oil-drums-300x225The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a Georgia employee’s lawsuit that alleged unlawful race and age discrimination. The plaintiff asserted that he was fired from his job because of his race and age in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“the Act”) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The employer, a company that made and shipped water treatment chemicals, filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff was fired for his on-the-job performance. The trial court granted the motion, and, on appeal, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of many personal characteristics, including race. Under the Act, an employer with 15 or more employees may not fire an employee because of his or her race. Similarly, the ADEA prohibits discrimination against employees who are at least 40 years old.

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truck-195x300A trucking company that fired a truck driver who had been diagnosed with alcohol dependency did not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), according to a recent Eleventh Circuit ruling.

The plaintiff in the case was employed in Georgia by the defendant, a trucking company, as an over-the-road driver. In 2010, the plaintiff requested and was granted an FMLA leave of absence to care for a “serious health problem” after talking with his personal physician about his alcohol issues. Upon completion of a 30-day program at an inpatient substance abuse facility, the plaintiff’s physician certified that he was fit to return to work. A week after his discharge from the treatment program, the plaintiff was fired. The reason given was that his clinical diagnosis of chronic “alcohol dependence” made him unfit for his job according to company policy and DOT regulations.

The plaintiff sued his former employer for wrongful termination under the ADA and interference and retaliation under the FMLA. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia granted summary judgment on behalf of the defendant. The plaintiff appealed to the Eleventh Circuit.

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Just a couple of decades ago, some of the biggest unsanctioned communications “perks” an employee might covet would be making a long-distance call on the company dime or using the fax for personal business when no one was looking. Then came the chain emails and funny cat videos one could sneak in between doing actual work. Now, however, an array of social media sites being constantly updated tethers many workers to information and entertainment streams that have nothing to do with their jobs and everything to do with wasting time.

Abstractly, time spent mindlessly browsing Facebook or Twitter while on the clock is time being stolen from the company. To combat the problem, it used to be that businesses could simply add a few firewalls and restrict access to certain sites. As smartphone ownership with high-speed data has become more of the norm, however, there’s less that can be done to stop employees from simply shifting their Internet play time off the company servers and into their palms. But is the time spent goofing off online really any different from time that was once wasted at the water cooler, or have workers merely taken inherent down time to its natural technological extension?

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With all the misplaced fears and manufactured hysteria about the first Ebola case diagnosed in the US, it is not hard to assume most people are happy they are not health care workers in that Dallas hospital. Unfortunately, it looks like at least one of the nurses caring for the initial victim is testing positive for the disease, and dozens more workers who had direct and indirect contact with the infected individual are being quarantined and monitored for the next couple of weeks. The chance of contracting a virus that is killing more than half of its victims in Western Africa is a high price for anyone to pay for choosing a career in medicine, but that is the risk they assumed when they took the job, right? Not exactly.

While health care workers are used to dealing with all kinds of sicknesses and gore, some things simply fall outside the norm. Expecting emergency room nurses or doctors to be well-versed in caring for highly unusual maladies, such as heavy radiation exposure, exotic poisons and toxins, or pandemic-level diseases previously confined to other continents is unreasonable, if not impossible. Thus, it was not surprising to see the head of the nation’s largest nurses’ union blast the Centers for Disease Control for appearing to blame the now-infected nurse’s own breach of safety protocol for her exposure to the Ebola virus.

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kids-at-play-1152328-mRecently, a federal court in Georgia granted a motion to dismiss a case involving wrongful termination and violations of the Equal Protection Clause, among other claims.

In Fareed v. Cobb County School District, Inc., Gary Fahreed worked as a school patrol officer for the Cobb County Public Safety Department from October 2012 until May 2013.  When the students left for summer break, Fahreed assumed that he would resume his position after the next school year began.  Instead, Fahreed was informed that his position had been moved from the Public Safety Department to the Cobb County School District.  Fahreed was given instructions to complete an application and told by human resources for Cobb County School District to report on August 13, 2012 to complete the paperwork.  Then, on August 9, the human resources department told Fahreed to not report to work until Fahreed had contacted them.  On August 12, the human resources department instructed Fahreed to check with his supervisors before reporting to work.  Later that day, human resources told Fahreed that he was disqualified from the position due to possessing a criminal background.  Fahreed claimed that he had revealed his criminal conviction not only in the application, but also to his former employers.

Fahreed filed an action in court alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, wrongful termination, and violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  The defendant, Cobb County School District, filed a motion to dismiss under 12(b)(6), failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

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Many individuals who work in Georgia are already aware of the fact that their employment is “at will.” What that means is that an employer in Georgia is allowed to terminate an individual for practically any reason. Georgia courts typically state that an employee can be terminated for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all. So how can someone working in Georgia be “wrongfully terminated?” The answer is that there is no generic claim in Georgia for “wrongful termination.” Instead, there are various specific claims—such as retaliation, discrimination, or breach of contract—that sometimes arise when an employee is terminated.

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Since its introduction in 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has served as a guardian against the unfair treatment of full and part-time employees throughout the United States. The FLSA regulates minimum wage, child labor, overtime payment, and recordkeeping for federal, state, and local governments, as well as employees in the private sector. Continuous amendments to the document ensure salary standards congruent with living expenses in the current economy.

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Once terminated, former employees are often surprised to hear the employer’s reasons for termination. In many cases, former employees feel that the reason given for termination is unfair, deceptive, or simply a lie. To make things worse, employers don’t always provide a clear reason at the time of the firing. Sometimes the employee hears the reason for the first time when applying for unemployment benefits. Sometimes they may not hear the reason until they apply for a new job and the prospective employer checks their references. However, this does not mean that the reason given is defamation or slander.

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Discrimination, wrongful termination, hostile work environment, retaliation. These are words that I often hear during an initial client interview. While these concepts are relevant to employment law matters, they are often misunderstood by employees and employers alike.

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