At work, causal conversation can come back to haunt you, especially if you're a supervisor. As much as employees may feel like "at-will employment" is a carte blanche to fire anyone anytime, without reason, there are limits. And when past behavior paints a picture of discriminatory behavior, you can't hide behind the at-will employment banner.
Goudeau v. National Oilwell Varco started when a 50-year-old Maurice Goudeau got a new supervisor. The supervisor went on a smoke break with Goudeau and commented on how many "old farts" were working there. He also allegedly shared plans to fire some of them with Goudeau. On other occasions, the supervisor continued to use age-related taunts, including also calling Goudeau an old fart and commenting that he wore "old-man clothes."
Before Goudeau was fired in August 2011, he was given several successive warnings from January through August, after having worked at National Oilwell Varco since 1993 and been promoted to a supervisor position. Add to that the fact that none of the warnings were signed by Goudeau, which backed up his claim that they were all issued the same day-the day he was fired.
NOV argued that the warnings-whether they were all issued the same day or not-validated the firing because Goudeau was an at-will employee. However, the court decided that the company failed to follow it's own policies for progressive warnings, which could be evidence of a discriminatory firing.
In short, "at-will employment" can't be used as a defense if the company is exhibiting discriminatory behavior, and also isn't following it's own policies for the termination of an at-will employment relationship.
At Bouchillon, Crossan & Colburn, L.C., our attorneys have more than 40 years dedicated to giving clients the attention, advice, support and empowerment they need to effectively meet their goals. We are committed to the principle that all persons shall have equal justice under the law. If you or a loved one has been injured and is seeking a qualified personal injury attorney, contact our Huntington, West Virginia office to speak with an attorney about your case, or call 304-523-8451.