Katz, Marshall & Banks senior counsel Carolyn Wheeler was quoted in the Bloomberg article, “Appeals Courts Weigh ‘Honest Belief’ Rule for Bias Claims.” Two pending cases in federal appeals courts will look at the breadth of the “honest belief” rule, and how it is applied in employment cases. The rule is a defense against discrimination claims, and allows employers to offer legitimate reasons for adverse actions against an employee, even if they are based on incorrect information.
Currently, the case law is vague and plaintiffs’ attorneys argue that determinations over an employer’s motivations and decisions should be left to a jury, and not prematurely ruled on by a judge. Two cases – in the Eight and Eleventh Circuits – could clarify the honest belief rule.
In the Eighth Circuit, the judges will rule on whether the lower court’s summary judgement ruling was appropriate in the case of Sheila Main vs her employer, Ozark Health. Ozark claims it terminated Main’s employment because she was unprofessional and rude toward a client representative. Although Main produced evidence, including testimony from the client representative that she was not rude, the District Judge said that all that matters is that the manager honestly thought she was rude.
Main’s attorney, Ms. Wheeler, called the honest belief rule “pernicious” but tailored her argument to the facts of the case.
This doctrine has lasted for a while, and is unlikely to be struck down by a single ruling. However a court may be willing to provide some more clarity for attorneys in the future.
Read the full article here.