Fenwick Employment Brief - September 2013: Wrongful Termination Claims Fail Where Employer Thoroughly Investigated Work Altercation

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In Kodwavi v. Intercontinental Hotels Group Resources, Inc., a federal district court in California determined that a hotel employee was not entitled to have his claims of national origin discrimination and retaliation go to a jury, because the employee could not show that he was performing his job adequately or that others outside his protected class were treated more favorably, and further could not show that the employer’s stated reason for termination – violation of the workplace violence policy – was pretextual.

The hotel employee, who was born in Pakistan, allegedly used profanity towards his supervisor, grabbed the supervisor’s waist and threatened him. After a thorough investigation of the altercation, which included interviews of more than 20 employees by the hotel’s human resources department and obtaining written statements from several witnesses, the employer concluded the employee acted aggressively and made unwelcome physical contact in violation of the hotel’s “zero tolerance” workplace violence policy and terminated the employee. Key to the court’s decision was that the employer’s investigation of the incident was thorough and the employer made a good faith determination based on the findings of the investigation.