There may be many reasons for an employer to terminate an employee. Many times this is a legitimate action based upon some form of misconduct. However, when there is no reason given for the termination it opens the company up for scrutiny and legal experts such as Tayeb Hyderally may begin to question the ultimate reasons for the actions. Many times as in the case with Mr. Velez, there is reason to believe that there discriminatory practices had occurred on the part of the company. Experts in employment law may have a relatively easy case when the company either does not have proper procedures in place; or does not follow them. Puerto Rican employer, Thermo King de Puerto Rico, Inc learned this the hard way.
Thermo King Investigation
The company was investigating Mr. Velez to determine if he had stolen company property and then resold it to his fellow employees. Several different employees had stated that they had purchased property from Velez; and he had admitted that he sold it to them. However, his claim was that the property was not stolen from the employer, but that he had received them as gifts from various vendors. Thermo King terminated Mr. Velez without giving him a reason for termination.
Velez who was 56 years old at the time immediately claimed age discrimination and filed a claim with the EEOC. Only after this claim was filed did Thermo King state that the reason for termination was for accepting gifts from the vendors. Shortly thereafter, Velez filed a subsequent federal case based on what he believed to be age discrimination. Thermo King’s official restated their response for terminating Velez but added that he was in violation of company code by accepting vendor’s gifts and reselling them to other employees. In the federal court, Thermo King was granted motion for summary judgment based on the company’s explanation. The court stated that this was non-discriminatory and did not find that it discriminatory based on Velez’s age.
Velez Appeals the Decision
The court’s decision was reversed by the court of appeals and it was sent back for a jury trial. The appellate court stated that the company did not give Velez a reason at the time they terminated his employment. It was following his claim filed with the EEOC that the employer began to claim that Velez had violated company policies. However, the reason was suspect because Thermo King’s code of conduct allows employees to accept gifts from vendors as long as they are not of great value. The other mistake on the part of the employer was that they did not discipline the other employees who admitted to purchasing these gifts from Velez. Because the company continued to “shift” their explanation for terminating Velez, the court concluded that it was fabricated. Therefore it was likely that in a jury trial it would be determined that their “shifting explanation” was simply a cover-up for an act of age discrimination.
Acts of Termination
The Velez case emphasizes how important it is for employers to provide detailed and clear explanations for why an employee is terminated. This should be done at the time of termination, not after litigation occurs. Thermo King tried to focus on what Velez admitted to rather than what the internal investigation had found. The fact that they changed their reasoning for termination over time indicated that they were providing a cover-up for illegitimate activities. Employers should always disclose any legitimate reasons for terminating an employee, even if the employee denies the allegations. Ultimately, the employer who fails to articulate a real motive before litigation begins can be suspect of discriminatory practices.