False Statements in Connection with Protected Actions Are Not Immunized from Discipline
The fact that an employee’s misconduct occurred in the context of otherwise legally protected conduct does not insulate him from discipline, according to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit.
Although this case arises under the federal Railway Safety Act, the principle is generally applicable. In Lemon v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co., the employee reported to his supervisor that he had injured himself on the job. Once the supervisor began investigating the injury, however, he discovered that, although the employee denied speaking to others, he told a different story about his injury to each of three co-workers, his mother, and the doctor. The employee was terminated for making false statements.
The Railway Safety Act prohibits termination for making an injury report, and the employee argued that his injury report was a contributing factor to his termination, because, without the injury report he would not have lied to his supervisor, which led to his termination. The 6th Circuit, however, observed that this argument “would authorize employees to engage in banned behavior so long as it occurs during protected conduct.” Thus, the 6th Circuit rejected the idea that the protected behavior – the injury report – “immunized the employee from discipline for his rule violation.”