Georgia Appeals Court Agrees that Termination of Tennis Manager Accused of Sexual Abuse of Teen Was Not Unlawful

An Atlanta wrongful termination lawsuit can arise from several different situations. Among these are cases in which someone is fired because of his or her gender, sex, or race, even if some other, superficial reason is alleged by the employer. Terminations based on a worker’s pregnancy or disability can also trigger a wrongful discharge case, as can the firing of someone who has been hurt on the job or been absent for jury duty. There are some situations, however, in which a termination – though alleged to be wrongful by the discharged worker – is upheld as lawful by the court system.

This can happen when an employer has a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for letting a worker go. A case appealed to the intermediate state appeals court recently explored whether an accusation of sexual misconduct might fall under this category, even though there had not yet been a conviction concerning the allegations.

Facts of the Case

In a recent appellate case, the plaintiff was a man who worked as a tennis manager for the defendant county. In April 2018, however, the plaintiff was the target of a lawsuit in which it was asserted that he had sexually abused a teenage girl at the defendant’s tennis facilities. Although the plaintiff denied the allegations, the defendant placed him on paid administrative leave for a period of about four months. Thereafter, the plaintiff was moved to “unpaid suspension” for another four months. Thereafter, he was terminated; as grounds, the defendant stated that the plaintiff’s excessive absences had resulted in his termination.
The plaintiff sought the review of a hearing officer. During the hearing, testimony was developed to the effect that the plaintiff had been the subject of an interim suspension by a certain national sports organization and that this suspension effectively prohibited the plaintiff from participating in any activities authorized under the auspices of the organization. The hearing officer upheld the plaintiff’s termination, holding that there was substantial evidence to support the defendant’s decision to terminate the plaintiff’s employment. The plaintiff appealed the hearing officer’s decision to the superior court, which ruled that that his decision had been arbitrary and capricious. The defendant sought further review.

The Court of Appeals’ Decision

On appeal to the Georgia Court of Appeals, the court agreed with the defendant that the superior court had erred in substituting its own judgment for that of the hearing officer and in finding his decision to be arbitrary and capricious. In so holding, the court pointed out that it was bound to accept a hearing officer’s decision in a case such as the one at bar if there was any evidence to support it. Here, the court found that there was evidence to support the hearing officer’s conclusion that the defendant had been justified in terminating the plaintiff on account of his excessive absences.

Although the plaintiff relied upon the national sports organization’s suspension of him as a defense against the defendant’s charge of excessive absences insomuch as he was prohibited from engaging in certain activities relating to tennis due to the suspension, both the hearing officer and the appellate court opined that the suspension served to bolster the defendant’s position, not the plaintiff’s.

Speak to an Atlanta Wrongful Termination Attorney

If you have questions about a possible claim for wrongful termination, you should talk to an attorney to learn more about the process of holding your employer liable for their wrongdoing. To schedule an appointment, please call the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert at 404-873-8048 to request an appointment with Attorney John L. Mays or another member of our litigation team.

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