Employers sometimes assert that an employee is “not a good fit” for the company. Such vague terminology may be problematic when the employee claims that their termination was actually because of illegal discrimination or harassment. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld an employer’s “not a good fit” determination because the employer was able to provide concrete examples of the employee’s poor interactions with others.
In Lashley v. Spartanburg Methodist College, a professor sued for discrimination and retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, among other things, when the school decided not to renew her contract and then terminated her shortly thereafter. The Fourth Circuit found that, with regard to the non-renewal of her contract for being a poor fit, the school offered several reports that the professor was often at the center of conflicts with students and faculty, that there were multiple complaints that she had unprofessional relationships with students, and that there were conflicts with multiple faculty members. There were also emails in which the professor expressed her dissatisfaction with the school, sometime profanely. As to her termination, that was the result of her making threatening statements to students and colleagues following the non-renewal of her contract.
To further illustrate this point, a federal district court came to the opposite conclusion in Glenn v. P1 Group, Inc. Similarly, the employee there was told he was “not a good fit” when he was terminated. After the lawsuit was filed, however, the employer explained that it meant that he lacked the experience for the job. The problem was that the employer’s explanation was not consistent with its actions – for example, on the termination form, the employer did not check the box that stated “Failure to satisfactorily perform job duties.” Based on the shifting explanations for the termination, the court found that a jury could find that the employer’s reason was a pretext for discrimination.
The lesson here is that “not a good fit” can be a legitimate reason for terminating an employee, but it is important that the employer be able to demonstrate exactly why the employee is a poor fit. And frankly, it is better to identify the specific grounds – truthfully and accurately – for why the employee is not a good fit when informing the employee of the reasons for a termination.