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Fitness for Duty Release Did Not Undermine Legitimate Reasons for Termination

Published by on January 12, 2015

On December 2, 2014, in Curley v. City of North Las Vegas (9th Cir. 2014), 2014 WL 6765744, —-F.3d—-, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a doctor’s finding that an employee did not pose a safety threat did not establish a triable issue with respect to whether the employer’s explanation that the employee […]

On December 2, 2014, in Curley v. City of North Las Vegas (9th Cir. 2014), 2014 WL 6765744, —-F.3d—-, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a doctor’s finding that an employee did not pose a safety threat did not establish a triable issue with respect to whether the employer’s explanation that the employee was fired, in part, due to a long history of threatening coworkers was pretextual.

The employee claimed that his former employer discriminated against him in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act due to his hearing impairment and/or because he had filed a discrimination complaint.  The employer gave four reasons for the employee’s termination: nonperformance of duties, intimidation of coworkers by threats of violence, conducting and soliciting personal business on work time, and making disparaging remarks about his supervisors and the City.  The employee attempted to prove pretext by arguing that the doctor’s report that he was fit-for-duty creates a genuine issue of material fact as to the credibility of the City’s stated reasons for firing him.  The Court disagreed for two reasons: first, the City fired the employee, in part, for his past threats, not the danger of future violence.  Thus, the doctor’s evaluation was not evidence of pretext.  Second, even if the fit-for-duty evaluation somehow undermined the credibility of the City’s stated concerns about the employee’s threats, the City asserted other reasons for terminating him, which the employee did not try to refute.  “Disputing only one of several well-supported, independently sufficient reasons for termination is not generally enough to defeat summary judgment.” Id. at *3.

Laconic Lookout: In contemplating the termination of an employee who possess a safety risk to others, past threats already made may be proper grounds for termination, even if the employee has been declared fit-for-duty.

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