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King v. United Parcel Serv., Inc. - 152 Cal. App. 4th 426, 60 Cal. Rptr. 3d 359 (2007)

Rule:

Once an employer satisfies its initial burden of proving the legitimacy of its reason for termination, the discharged employee seeking to avert summary judgment must present specific and substantial responsive evidence that the employer's evidence was in fact insufficient or that there is a triable issue of fact material to the employer's motive. In other words, the employee must produce substantial responsive evidence to show that the employer's ostensible motive was pretextual; that is, that a discriminatory reason more likely motivated the employer or that the employer's explanation is unworthy of credence.

Facts:

Respondent United Parcel Service, Inc. (UPS) was the employer or Petitioner King. It did not deny that King was a highly valued employee for nearly 30 years, and that even Scott Vix, who made the decision to fire King, hated to lose him. Petitioner King, a supervisor in UPS, was terminated after an investigation indicated that he had encouraged an employee to falsify a timecard to bring it into compliance with federal regulations limiting driving time by asking the employee to remove the previously submitted hours information from the UPS computer. The employee relations manager and Vix informed King that UPS was terminating him for falsifying records, in breach of the UPS integrity policy.

King alleged the real reason he was fired was because he was disabled, not because he lacked integrity. The trial court found UPS had fired plaintiff for a legitimate reason — he breached the company's integrity policy.

Issue:

Did UPS have an honest, good faith belief that the driver had violated its integrity policy when it fired him?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

UPS, as the party moving for summary judgment, bears the initial burden of demonstrating that at least one of the elements of plaintiff's employment discrimination claim is without merit. The Court disagreed with King that UPS failed to offer any evidence to sustain its burden of proof. According to UPS's evidence, the decision makers entertained an honest belief that plaintiff had either personally falsified a driver's timecard or directed the driver to do so. For purposes of establishing the moving employer's initial burden of proof, it does not matter whether plaintiff actually did commit an integrity violation as long as UPS honestly believed he did. Once an employer satisfies its initial burden of proving the legitimacy of its reason for termination, the discharged employee seeking to avert summary judgment must present specific and substantial responsive evidence that the employer's evidence was in fact insufficient or that there is a triable issue of fact material to the employer's motive. King’s subjective beliefs in an employment discrimination case do not create a genuine issue of fact; nor do uncorroborated and self-serving declarations. The Court affirmed the summary judgment in favor of UPS as King failed to present substantial evidence that the decision was anything more than a mistake by demonstrating triable issues of pretext, bad faith, or malice.

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