• Threat of Violence by Whistleblower Was Reasonable Justification for Termination
  • April 17, 2007 | Author: Victor Schachter
  • Law Firm: Fenwick & West LLP - Mountain View Office
  • While violence in the workplace raises compelling issues for employers, a company must balance the rights of individual employees under state and federal labor laws in addressing such issues. In Morriss v. LG&E Power Services, Morriss believed that technicians were manipulating and editing emissions data and reported his findings to the plant manager and state environmental board. When Morriss was later arrested for assaulting his wife (who was a co-worker), other employees expressed their concern about his increasingly erratic and possibly violent behavior. After a paid leave of absence to seek counseling, Morriss signed a "Return to Work" agreement stating that he would not permit his personal issues to interfere with work. However, his wife obtained a subsequent restraining order for his forcing his way into his wife's home and assaulting her. He was terminated for violating his return to work agreement.

    Morriss alleged that he was terminated for reporting that technicians were manipulating and editing emissions data. However, the Administrative Review Board (ARB) found that the evidence supported LG&E's concern about Morriss' threat to his wife and other co-workers, and determined that his violence-related termination was not a pretext for discrimination.

    The ARB said that the burden was not on the employer to show that it thought Morriss was a danger to the workplace. Rather, the burden was on Morriss to show that his employer did not genuinely believe that he was a threat and therefore acted in retaliation for his protected activity. The ARB found that none of the evidence presented was directly linked to Morriss' complaints of emissions data tampering to his termination.