Georgia Police Officer’s Retaliatory Discharge Claim Failed Due to Lack of Proof that Firing Was Pretextual

An Atlanta wage and hour claim has the potential to anger the employer who is accused of wrongdoing, possibly subjecting the complaining employee to further misconduct in the workplace (assuming that he or she is still employed following the claim). Of course, it is important to note that it can be a violation of state and federal law for an employer to intentionally retaliate against a worker simply because he or she has asserted his or her legal rights in a court of law or other tribunal.

However, not every complaint of unlawful retaliation will be successful in court, as the employer does have some defenses, including an adverse employment action based on a legitimate reason rather than in retaliation; notably, in order for this defense to relieve it of liability for wrongful termination, the employer must be able to show that it was not merely pretextual.

Facts of the Case

In a case recently discussed by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, Savannah Division, the plaintiff was a former police officer whose employment was terminated by the defendant city in 2018. The plaintiff filed suit in federal court, alleging that the defendant had violated her legal rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, ยง 28 U.S.C. 201, et seq. by engaging in unlawful workplace retaliation after the parties had settled a separate lawsuit in late 2017.

In the previous lawsuit, the plaintiff had alleged that the city had failed to pay her overtime wages. Approximately three months after a settlement was reached in that case, the defendant suspended the plaintiff from her employment based on a loss of her arrest authority due to an alleged “training deficiency.” After she was fired, the plaintiff brought the second suit, in which she claimed that the defendant had scrutinized her employment record until it had found a “seemingly legitimate” reason to fire her. The defendant filed an at-issue motion for summary judgment.

The Decision of the Federal District Court

The court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, holding that the plaintiff had failed to present enough evidence for a reasonable jury to find that the defendant had unlawfully retaliated against her. In the court’s view, the defendant had consistently cited the plaintiff’s loss of arrest authority due to her failure to complete certain training in a timely manner as the reason for her termination. Although the plaintiff did not believe that her conduct merited her termination, this was not, ultimately, for her to decide. As the court pointed out, an employer generally has a right to terminate an employee for “a good reason, a bad reason… or for no reason” as long as the firing is not done for a discriminatory or retaliatory reason.

In the court’s opinion, the plaintiff failed to meet her burden of showing that the defendant’s proffered reason for her discharge was a pretext to retaliation. She had, after all, twice lost her authority to issue an arrest due to her failure to comply with training requirements established under state law. Hence, the court found that the defendant was entitled to summary judgment.

To Seek Legal Advice Concerning an Atlanta Employment Law Matter

If you believe that you have not been treated fairly with regard to matters of wage and hour laws, or if you feel you have been wrongfully retaliated against for asserting your legal rights in another proceeding, you need to take prompt legal action. To schedule a consultation with a member of the Parks, Chesin & Walbert Atlanta wage and hour litigation team, call us now at 404-873-8048.

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