Here in Texas, a central rule of employment law is that employment is at-will. This means that either the employer or the employee can terminate employment at any time for any reason, with exceptions. The exceptions other than contractual agreements are things that run contrary to federal and state employment statutes such as discrimination and retaliation. When a worker is fired for complaining about being discriminated against, for example, he or she can choose to sue the employer for retaliation and wrongful termination.
Sometimes, retaliation is hard to prove because the employer will try to hide the true motive. For example, an employer might fire a worker who has complained about sexual harassment and blame the termination on the worker’s tardiness. The U.S. Supreme Court has taken up a case involving a Texas medical center to determine exactly what workers must prove in mixed-motive retaliation or wrongful termination cases.
The case involves a Texas doctor who was denied a position at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center after he complained about being discriminated against. The doctor, who says he was discriminated against because of his Middle Eastern background, went on to win a $3 million lawsuit against the medical center.
The medical center appealed, arguing that the doctor needs to prove that the medical school would not have rescinded the job offer if he had not complained about discrimination, suggesting that the job offer was going to be rescinded regardless of that complaint.
This issue is quite complicated. In previous cases, courts have stated that plaintiffs only have to show that an improper motive was a contributing factor–perhaps among others–for an adverse employment action. The medical center is arguing that plaintiffs should have to show that the improper motive was the driving factor and that the adverse action would not have happened otherwise.
The Supreme Court’s decision could have a major impact on employment rights here in Texas.
Source: CBS Houston, “Supreme Court To Review Texas Discrimination Lawsuit Win,” Jan. 18, 2013
Source: Bloomberg, “Stanford Suits Get Court Review in Securities-Fraud Test,” Greg Stohr, Jan. 18, 2013