Defense Secures Award in $1.5-Million Employment Arbitration

February 7, 2023

Chris Vaporean obtained an award for a client in an employment arbitration in which the plaintiff claimed he was retaliated against in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act for participating in an internal investigation of complaints of discrimination and harassment. Two weeks before his termination, he was interviewed by HR and reported hearing a particularly egregious racially-charged comment by his supervisor. Plaintiff was one of several people who provided information in the investigation. The supervisor was terminated following the investigation. He also claimed he was fired in violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act, because he reported certain improper sales practices by his co-workers which he claimed violated the MMPA. The allegations were fully investigated by the Internal Audit department, and while some practices which did not follow Asbury’s very strict internal Compliance standards were found, no illegal practices were found and thus no violation of the MMPA occurred. The staff engaging in the practices were brand-new hires who had not gone through Internal Compliance training at the time of the alleged impropriety. The store went through multiple internal audits in the weeks following the allegations and the new employees underwent training, after which no further compliance issues were found. Plaintiff, meanwhile, was engaging in disruptive and unprofessional conduct with new his co-workers and significantly contributed to what multiple employees called a “toxic” culture within the store. Plaintiff was fired after he cussed at another employee in the store with customers in the vicinity. The arbitrator found that while the plaintiff’s participation in the HR investigation and his reporting of improper sales practices were likely protected, he was not insulated from discipline for his own misconduct. The arbitrator specifically found no causal connection between plaintiff’s protected reports and his termination given the cussing incident, and found the termination proper.