Sheriff’s Department Defeats Retaliation Claim Because Terminated Employee Could Not Show Pretext

CATEGORY: Public Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Public Education
DATE: Oct 26, 2021

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) terminated Vanessa Hamilton’s employment after she failed to report for a mandatory overtime shift in May 2016.  Hamilton sued, alleging retaliation in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). OCSD moved for summary judgment.  OCSD alleged that Hamilton could identify no evidence to allow a reasonable jury to find that the reasons OCSD gave for her termination (i.e., her failure to report for the overtime shift) were pretextual and retaliatory.  The district court granted summary judgment for OCSD and Hamilton appealed.

On appeal, the Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for OCSD.  The Ninth Circuit noted that: Hamilton did not dispute that she failed to report for the mandatory overtime shift, and the evidence supported OCSD’s conclusion that Hamilton was deceptive as to why she failed to report to work. The Ninth Circuit further found no evidence that other employees were retained after similar misconduct, nor any other evidence from which a jury could infer that OCSD’s reasons for terminating Hamilton were untrue.

Hamilton v. Orange County Sheriff’s Department (9th Cir. Aug. 3, 2021) 854 Fed.Appx. 938, unpublished.


Courts will deny an employer’s motion for summary judgment if there is conflicting evidence as to the employer’s reasons for taking adverse action against an employee. But, a summary judgment motion is a powerful tool if the employer’s reasons for an adverse action are accurate and consistent.

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