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An Employer’s “Honest Belief” of Employee Misconduct Is Not Pretextual for Discrimination

In the case of Cole v. Fifth Third Bancorp, 2022-Ohio-774, the Ohio Fifth District Court of Appeals held that an employee failed to establish a disability discrimination and retaliation case because it was undisputed that the employer terminated the employee based upon an honest belief that the employee falsified call logs.

Here, the employee alleged that the employer engaged in disability discrimination and retaliation asserting that the employee was terminated immediately after giving notice of the employee’s resignation effective at the end of a paternity leave. In response, the employer argued that the employee was terminated for falsifying call logs, not because of any disability. The Court agreed with the employer.

In dismissing the employee’s claims, the Court explained that, because the employee in this case was unable to show any direct evidence of discrimination, the employee was required to produce some evidence in the record demonstrating a nexus between the adverse employment action and the employee’s disability – which the employee was unable to do in this case since it was undisputed that the employer honestly believed the employee falsified call logs.

In applying the “honest belief” rule, the Court explained that “as long as an employer has an honest belief in its proffered nondiscriminatory reason for discharging an employee, the employee cannot establish the reason was pretextual simply because it is ultimately shown to be incorrect. An employer has an honest belief in its reason for discharging an employee where the employer reasonably relied ‘on the particularized facts that were before it at the time the decision was made.’

The pre-termination investigation need not be optimal, and need not leave no stone unturned, but the key inquiry is whether the employer made a reasonably informed and considered decision.” 2022-Ohio-774 at ¶22 (omitting internal citations).

To read this case, click here.

Authors: Matthew John Markling and the McGown & Markling Team.

Note: This blog entry does not constitute – nor does it contain – legal advice. Legal jurisprudence is like the always-changing Midwestern weather. As a result, this single blog entry cannot substitute for consultation with a McGown & Markling attorney. If legal advice is needed with respect to a specific factual situation, please feel free to contact a McGown & Markling attorney.

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