11/20/2012 12:53:00 PM EST
Proof Enough: Establishing Just Cause for Summary Disposition
In Nyquist v.
Tilden Mining Co., the Michigan Court of Appeals found that it did not need
to reach the issue of whether the plaintiff was working under a just cause
contract because the employer had established "ample documentary
evidence" showing cause to terminate the plaintiff. The court, in
its unpublished decision, reversed the trial court's denial of
The plaintiff had moved from a bargaining unit position
to a supervisory position. In response to his concerns about losing the
security of a union position, the plaintiff was given a letter stating that he
would be "given consideration for any suitable position that may be
available" in the event he is terminated for reasons "other than
performance." He subsequently signed a statement
acknowledging that he agreed to comply with the company's policies as
a condition of employment and understood his employment was at will.
The plaintiff was terminated after an investigation
established that he had stolen company property. In the lawsuit that
followed the termination, the company established that it had a policy that
employees would be discharged for theft; that plaintiff knew of the policy;
that theft included taking company property without permission; and that theft
was a grounds for automatic termination. In his deposition, plaintiff
acknowledged that he knew about the theft policy and the punishment and that he
knowingly removed property from the company's facility.
The company, not surprisingly, filed a motion for summary
disposition which was, surprisingly, denied. The trial court concluded
that a reasonable jury could find that there was a just cause contract and that
there were genuine issues of material fact concerning whether
plaintiff committed theft.
The court of appeals reversed and found that the
defendant, based on the facts, had cause to terminate the employee and proved
the cause beyond dispute in its documentary evidence. The court stated
that the company was not required to prove that the plaintiff's actions met the
statutory definition of a criminal theft; it only needed to show plaintiff's
actions were cause for dismissal according to the company's policies. The
affidavit filed by the company accomplished this showing.
The court of appeals' decision is a refreshing
recognition that where a company does things correctly in terms of establishing
policies; communicating them; and obtaining acknowledgments from the employees,
it should be able to prevail when challenged. The decision should be
useful in defending cases where there is no real dispute that the plaintiff did
what the company said was its reason for termination.
can access enhanced version of Nyquist
v. Tilden Mining Co.
For additional Labor and Employment law
insights from John
Holmquist , visit the Michigan Employment Law
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