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Paul Zimmerman
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California Court of Appeal Affirms That Employees Must Participate in Workplace Investigations

In a recent case from a California Court of Appeal, McGrory v. Applied Signal Technology, Inc., the employer terminated the plaintiff after an outside investigator concluded that (1) the employer had not discriminated against a lesbian subordinate on the basis of sex or sexual orientation, (2) the employee had violated the employer’s policies on sexual harassment and ethics, and (3) the employee had been uncooperative and deceptive during the investigation.

The employer filed for summary judgment.  It argued that the employee was  terminated for a lawful reason, and that it made privileged statements about  the termination.  The trial court granted the motion.

The employee appealed, claiming that the employer violated public policy because an employee cannot be terminated for being male or for participating in an investigation.  He also claimed that he was defamed when the employer’s Vice-President of Human Resources told another employee about the termination.

The Court of Appeals found no evidence that the employee was terminated for being male.  It also found that being uncooperative or deceptive in an investigation is not legally protected, and that the employer’s statement about the termination was privileged.

Employers often confront the issue of what to do when an employee resists participating in an investigation.  While all cases must be evaluated on their own facts, the McGrory case affirms that employees must participate honestly in legitimate investigations into allegations of harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and other unlawful conduct.  Employers should also heed this case as a reminder not to convey information about a termination to anyone other than those with a legitimate business need for the information.

This article is not offered as, and should not be relied on as, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice in specific situations.