Honest belief that documents falsified supports termination decision
Thayer v. Tyson Foods, Inc., No. 09-5185 (6th Cir. 12/08/09, unpublished).
Ruling: In an unpublished decision, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment for the employer. It held that the worker failed to show that the reason for his termination was pretext for retaliation.
What it means: In Tennessee, proof of discharge without evidence of a causal relationship between a worker's claim for benefits and his termination does not present an issue for a jury.
Summary: A Tyson chicken plant worker went to the plant's clinic complaining of wheezing and shortness of breath. The doctor determined the worker's illness was not work-related. The doctor gave the worker copies of his diagnosis to take to his employer. The worker filed a workers' compensation claim the next day. Tyson suspected an inconsistency between the copies the worker turned in and what it learned from the doctor. After an investigation, Tyson terminated the worker for altering medical documents. The worker alleged he was terminated in retaliation for filing a claim.
The 6th Circuit determined that Tyson reasonably based its decision on its belief that the medical records were falsified or altered. Particularly, the court noted the medical form submitted to Tyson had a questionable smudge or strike, and the worker offered no explanation as to why his version was different from the doctor's version. The court concluded the worker failed to show that Tyson's reasons for terminating him were pretext for retaliation.
The court also noted the worker's retaliation claim was weakened by the fact that in four years, Tyson terminated 40 employees for falsification of medical documentation and only five of them had filed workers' compensation claims.
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February 8, 2010
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