The focus of today’s blog will be a recent case that deals with employment at-will, wrongful termination, various forms of discrimination and what it takes to win an employment law claim. However, the most important aspect of today’s blog will not be found in or even tangentially implicated in this case. Instead, as you read this blog, you are going to be forced to wonder, what kind of attorney would even take this case. And that is an important question that should not be overlooked. The most important part of any employment rights case is to get good legal advice. Unfortunately, there are many attorneys and lawyers out there that are willing to take any case as long as the client pays hourly. Not only is this unethical, in our humble opinion, but it also damages the attorney’s reputation and ability to resolve the next case, which might be yours. As a wrongfully fired employee, you want to find a law firm with resources not only to stand up against large employment defense firms, but also to be financially secure enough to honestly tell clients that they are wasting their time and money. At Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, we are one of the largest dedicated employee’s rights firms in the United States and we will not charge our clients even a nickel if we don’t recovery for you. (Read: What is the Spitz No Fee Guarantee?; Why Having Skilled Employment Attorneys Is Critical).
So, with that in mind, let’s get into our blog about a case that never should have never been filed.
Can my employer fire me with no evidence?
Employment Discrimination Attorney Answer: When your employer fires you, they usually come up with a reason. Here at Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, we have seen everything from alleged poor performance to safety violations, and from attendance to sexual harassment. If your boss or manager accuses you of any of these things, they often think they can shield themselves by saying they got rid of a bad employee or even an employee who was breaking the law. However, you still can fight a wrongful termination if you are able to show that the employer knew their accusations were false or that the real reason for the termination was some other, illegal, reason. (Best Law Read: Even Bad Employees Are Protected From Race Discrimination).
If your employer is planning to fire you for a discriminatory reason, they are usually not going to come right out and say that they are firing you because of your race/color, religion, gender/sex (including pregnancy and LGBTQ+ status), national origin, disability; because you are a or whistleblower; or because they are upset that you filed a Workers’ Compensation claim. (Best Read: How Do You Win A Wrongful Termination Claim?; How Do I Prove Illegal Retaliation By My Job Under Title VII?).
What does “at-will” employment mean?
Top Wrongful Termination Lawyer Answer: Most states, including Ohio, Michigan, and North Carolina, are “at-will” employment states, which means that employers do not have to have a good reason – or any reason at all – for firing you. (Best Read: What Does Employment At-Will Mean?). Legally, they can fire you just because they do not like you. They can even hold a lottery every Friday where they randomly pick people to fire. However, most employers do come up with a reason. Sometimes that reason is completely made up. Sometimes it is an exaggeration of something that really happened. Sometimes it is true but not the real reason for the termination. If you want to show that it was a wrongful termination, you have to show that the reason they gave was “pretextual” – that is, not the real reason for the termination. (Best Law Read: Employment Discrimination Question: What Is Pretext?).
After an employee proves the prima facie elements of a discrimination or relation claim and the employer states the reason for termination, the burden of proof is on you to show that the employer’s stated reason was pretextual. (Best Law Read: What Does Prima Facie Mean?; How Do You Win A Discrimination At Work Lawsuit?). Courts are not just going to take your word for it, and courts are not going to conduct an independent investigation to decide whether your termination was justified.
To illustrate this, today we will look at a case out of Minnesota, where the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit recently decided the case of Said v. Mayo Clinic, 44 F.4th 1142 (8th Cir. 2022).
Sameh Mahmoud Mohamed Said began working for Mayo Clinic in 2015, as a senior associate consultant in the cardiovascular department. Said is African American, an Egyptian national, and a practicing Muslim. In November 2018, after multiple complaints by Said’s coworkers, an investigative committee recommended that Mayo Clinic terminate Said’s employment. Anticipating that a termination was coming soon, Said resigned on December 3, 2018.
What did the employer accuse Said of?
Multiple employees complained about Said’s behavior during his more than three years with Mayo Clinic. Their reports were wide-ranging and included yelling and cursing on the job, scheduling too many elective surgeries during off-hours, and sexual harassment of multiple coworkers. Let’s dig into the specifics.
Upon hiring Said in 2015, Mayo Clinic said that the position was temporary and that he would be considered for promotion to a permanent position in three years. In December 2016, Mayo Clinic gave Said a poor performance review due to feedback from peers, subordinates, and supervisors that Said mistreated staff and had poor communication skills. In October 2017, two female anesthesiologists accused Said of making unwelcome romantic advances toward them. In response to Said’s negative review and his coworkers’ accusations of sexual harassment, Mayo Clinic postponed Said’s promotion consideration to December 2018.
Again, in the spring and summer of 2018, multiple coworkers reported that Said was rude and vulgar at work. In response, Mayo Clinic postponed the promotion consideration for another six months, to June 2019. In October 2018, another employee came forward to report him for sexual harassment, reporting that Said had sent her text messages complimenting her appearance, made sexual comments, told her that he wanted to date her, and bought her multiple gifts despite her repeated requests for him to stop. In November 2018, Mayo Clinic set up an investigative committee, which recommended termination. On December 3, 2018, in the face of imminent termination, Said resigned.
Said sued Mayo Clinic, alleging that the real reason for his discipline was that Mayo Clinic discriminated against him based on his race, national origin, and religion.
What does an employee have to show in order to challenge a termination?
Best Anti-Discrimination Lawyer Answer: As frequent readers of this employee’s rights blog will know, the first step in an employment discrimination lawsuit is for the employee to present a “prima facie” case of discrimination. (Read: How Do You Win A Discrimination At Work Lawsuit?). In the Said v. Mayo Clinic case, the Court explained: “Said must offer ‘specific, tangible evidence’ of at least one other employee who was ‘similarly situated in all relevant respects,’ including committing offenses ‘of the same or comparable seriousness’ to Said’s, who received disparate treatment compared to Said.”
In other words, Said had to be able to point to at least one employee who was not African American, Egyptian, or Muslim and who was disciplined less harshly for something the same or similar. Said pointed to Dr. Simon Maltais, who was white, Canadian, and an atheist. Said alleged that Mayo Clinic disciplined Maltais less harshly than Said, even though multiple employees made complaints of Maltais’s “disrespectful, unethical, bullying, and inappropriate behavior toward his coworkers.” Notably, no one accused Maltais of sexual harassment.
The Court did not buy Said’s argument. Sexual harassment is vile, disgusting, and illegal. Here at Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, we have seen a lot of cases of sexual harassment, and all sexual harassment is horrible. Employers have a duty to take action to stop it, and people who engage in sexual harassment should be disciplined. As the Court correctly pointed out, it is reasonable for an employer to say that sexual harassment is not “the same or comparable” to merely “disrespectful, unethical, bullying, and inappropriate behavior.”
Even more problematic for Said, the Mayo also fired Maltais. Undeterred by this fact, Said argue that it was discriminatory because the Mayo took longer to fire Maltais. Again, the Court was not impressed with this argument, holding that given the differences in the severity of the conduct, the few months difference did not establish that such conduct was based on a discriminatory motive.
And now we return to the title of this blog: “How Much Proof Does My Employer Need to Have before Firing Me?” In this case, Said argued that the accusations of sexual harassment were not true. Sexual harassment is only sexual harassment if it is “unwelcome” to the target of the sexual advances, so Said argued that his victims actually liked his sexual advances. As disgusting as this argument is, it is not even something for the Court to consider.
Courts do not second-guess employers’ disciplinary decisions. The Court is not going to review all the evidence from Mayo Clinic’s investigation and determine whether or not they made the correct decision to fire Said. The employer does not have the burden to prove that the termination decision was justified; the employee has the burden to show that the employer’s stated reason for the termination was not the real reason.
As the Court noted: the question courts ask “is not whether the employee actually engaged in the conduct for which he was terminated, but whether the employer in good faith believed that the employee was guilty of the conduct.” If employer had an honest belief that Said engaged in sexual harassment, they do not have to show any more proof (See Employment Law: What Is The Honest Belief Rule?). Said provided no evidence that Mayo Clinic did not believe the allegations of sexual harassment, so the Court ruled in Mayo Clinic’s favor.
In the end, if your defense to accusations of sexual harassment against you are that the women liked it, don’t bring any claim. You almost certainly won’t make it passed summary judgment and if you are lucky enough to do so, the jury will not look kindly on that argument.
Again, I have to wonder about the attorney that took the case – not only through trial, but also through appeal. I’m sure that you are now wondering about that too.
How do I sue my employer?
Best Employment Lawyer Answer: If you believe that your employer fired you for an illegal reason, call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation. Call our lawyers in Ohio, Michigan, and North Carolina to get help now. Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm and its experienced attorneys are dedicated to protecting employees’ rights and solving employment disputes.
This employment law website is an advertisement. The materials available at the top of this page and at this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you are still asking, “How do I challenge my termination?”; “What is a ‘protected class or activity’”; “What do I do if my boss is making up lies about me?”; or “I was fired for …”, it would be best for to contact an experienced attorney to obtain advice with respect to any employment law issue or problem. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of The Spitz Law Firm, Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.