December, 2020 | The Law Offices of Gregory D. Jordan

Court Issues Opinion in Texas Wrongful Termination Case

Last month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Texas wrongful termination case discussing whether an employee presented sufficient evidence to survive his employer’s motion for summary judgment. Ultimately, the court found that the plaintiff was an “at-will” employee, and no evidence he presented indicated that he was terminated for an impermissible reason.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff worked as a licensed vocational nurse at a skilled rehabilitation center. The plaintiff was fired based on his interactions with one of the residents. However, the plaintiff’s story was vastly different from the story presented by the facility.

According to the plaintiff, one of the residents in the facility attacked another resident. The facility consulted with doctors, and it was decided that the facility would give the unruly resident a shot to calm him down. The plaintiff was asked to administer the shot. As the plaintiff entered the resident’s room, the resident threw a table at the plaintiff. Although the resident was screaming, the plaintiff successfully administered the shot. However, as the plaintiff was giving the resident the shot, the resident struck him in the head.

The facility offered a very different version of the events leading up to the plaintiff’s termination. The facility agreed that the plaintiff was asked to administer a shot to an unruly resident. However, according to the facility, it was the plaintiff who struck the resident in the head. In fact, as a result of the incident, the plaintiff was later charged with a felony.

The facility immediately suspended the plaintiff, pending an investigation. Once the investigation wrapped up, the facility fired the plaintiff. The plaintiff then filed a wrongful termination claim. In response, the facility filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff’s claim could not succeed under the law and should be dismissed by the judge.

The Employer’s Motion for Summary Judgment

In its motion, the employer claimed that the plaintiff was an at-will employee. Because of this, the facility argued it could fire the plaintiff for any reason or no reason at all. The plaintiff’s position was that a contract was formed when the employer gave him an employee handbook. He also claimed that, because the allegations leading to his termination were false, and that because he was fired based on incorrect information, he was wrongfully terminated.

The court began its analysis by explaining the general rule that “absent a specific agreement to the contrary, employment may be terminated by the employer or employee at will, for good cause, bad cause, or no cause at all.” Here, the court found that the employee handbook did not change the nature of the employee-employer relationship, and that the plaintiff was an at-will employee. The court noted that the manual specifically stated that “the relationship between employees and [the facility] is an at-will employment relationship” and that either party can end the relationship at any time without reason or prior notice.

That being the case, the court went on to determine if the facility fired the employee for an impermissible reason. While an employer can generally fire an at-will employee for “any reason, or no reason at all,” there are exceptions. For example, an employer cannot base their decision to fire an employee on the employee’s race, color, disability, religion, filing of a worker’s compensation claim, union membership or non-membership, active duty in State military forces, jury service, or the employee’s refusal to perform an illegal act.

Here, however, the court noted that the plaintiff did not raise any of these claims. Instead, the plaintiff argued that he was wrongfully terminated because the facility relied on false information when it fired him. However, because he was an at-will employee, even if the information was false, it would not have rendered the employer’s decision an illegal one.

Contact a Travis County Employment Attorney

If you are an employee or employer involved in a Texas employment dispute, contact the Law Offices of Gregory D. Jordan. Attorney Jordan is a skilled Texas employment attorney with extensive hands-on experience representing both employees and employers in a wide range of employment matters. Since 1989, Greg Jordan has been helping clients obtain the results they desire through his effective representation. He commands an in-depth understanding of the various state and federal employment laws that govern employment claims and is ready to put this advanced knowledge to use in your case. To learn more, and to schedule a consultation, call 512-419-0684 today.

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