Lesson From Rutgers: Some Conduct Requires Immediate Termination

By now I am sure most of you have seen the video showing former Rutgers Mens’ Basketball Head Coach Mike Rice verbally and physically assaulting his players at practice.  Rice’s conduct was inexcusable and it resulted in his termination last week.  But to most everyone, the termination came too late.

Former Athletic Director Tim Pernetti first saw the video in November 2012.  But instead of firing Rice then, which Pernetti  later admitted was his first instinct, Pernetti, after consultation with  human resources and in-house counsel, suspended Rice for 3 games and fined him $50,000.  When ESPN released the video last week Rutgers had a public relations nightmare on its hands.  Pernetti and other members of Rutgers’ administration have since resigned in the wake of  the public and internal outrage.

So what can employers learn from Rutgers’ mistake?  Some conduct requires immediate termination.  If you have conducted a thorough investigation and the investigation establishes  that the employee has engaged in theft, other acts of dishonesty, fighting, or sexual assault (to name just a few) immediate termination is almost always going to be warranted.

And delaying the decision can weaken the employer’s defense if the terminated employee files suit.  If you are arguing the employee’s conduct (or poor performance) resulted in the termination, but a significant amount of time elapsed between the conduct and the termination,  you can bet that the employee’s lawyer will argue that the events are not connected.  If that case makes it to a jury, the common sense argument that the delay means the two events are not connected might just win the case for the employee.

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