Employer’s Reasonable Belief Is No Pretext

By Beth Ann Lennon

Did the car hit the employee or the employee hit the car?  This is not the beginning of a logic problem – it’s the question one employer recently encountered when investigating a “he-said, he-said” workplace dispute. Based on the investigation, the employer determined that the employee had lied about the contact with a company vehicle that left the employee bruised.  The employer terminated the bruised employee and not the driver. The employee, of course, sued.  The Tenth Circuit affirmed what should be obvious but somehow repeatedly becomes an issue in so many cases – can an employer terminate an employee if the employee disputes the allegations against him?  So long as the employer (not the employee) “reasonably believed at the time of the termination that the [employee] had violated company policy” and the employer “acted in good faith upon that belief” the answer is an unequivocal yes.  “Pretext” is not proven by an employee’s continued insistence that his employer should have believed him over another employee.  Even if the employer “got it wrong,” being wrong on a fact dispute during an investigation is not evidence of discrimination.  Another reminder of the importance of effective, and well documented, investigations.

Montoya v. Jacobs Technology, Inc., No. 18-2098 (10th Cir. April 9, 2019)