I’m a big P!nk (yes, the exclamation point) fan. One of her most recent hits, is a song “Just Give Me A Reason”.
Somehow, reading a new Appellate Court case that will be officially released tomorrow, this song title kept sticking in my brain.
The case, Madigan v. Housing Authority of East Hartford (download here), revolves around the removal of the Executive Director of the agency way back in 2008 (who said the wheels of justice move quickly).
The contract for the executive director had this clause:
The [defendant] may terminate the employment and remove [the plaintiff] from his position at any time for those activities constituting misfeasance or nonfeasance or for any other just cause, in accordance with applicable Federal, State or local law.
At trial, however, the jury found that there was not just cause in his removal and awarded the plaintiff over $200,000 in both non-economic and economic damages.
On appeal, the employer argued that the trial court’s instructions to the jury were improper and that regardless, there was not enough evidence to support a jury finding that there was not just cause. The Appellate Court rejected both arguments.
In doing so, it offered a reminder that just cause requires something more than just a “proffer [of] a proper reason for dismissal.’’ The court did not find fault with the jury instructions because just cause means something more:
As previously discussed, the reason or reasons for termination must be substantial. A reason that is less than substantial would be an improper reason for dismissal, i.e., arbitrary and capricious.
As for the evidence itself, the court punted saying that if the jury believed the evidence offered by the plaintiff, it could have said that there was not “just cause” in the termination.
While “a” reason is good enough in an at-will termination, the court said that something more is required in a “just cause” or “good cause” termination.
For employers, the case serves as a lesson about the use of “just cause” in the agreement without further definition. And a reminder that in such instances, the reasons for the termination ought to be substantial and documented.