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It’s Not the Injury, It’s the Internet

In Gauthier v. Keurig Green Mountain, Inc., f/k/a Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc., 2015 VT 108 (August 14, 2015), the Vermont Supreme Court considered the case of an employee who was fired for disciplinary problems, but whose firing occurred after he made a worker’s compensation claim.

Issue: Whether Defendant employer was entitled to summary judgment on complaint of retaliation by Plaintiff, an employee with a history of disciplinary issues who was ultimately fired (after making a claim for worker’s compensation benefits) for excessive internet usage; and whether Plaintiff was entitled to amend his complaint after Defendant filed for summary judgment.

Holding: The Court first dealt with issues of evidence on appeal, finding that Plaintiff was not permitted to include in his printed case portions of his deposition transcript that were not filed in the superior court; the fact that he had presented certain portions of the transcript to the trial court did not make the entire transcript admissible. Using the three-step, burden-shifting McDonnell Douglas discrimination analysis, the Court then affirmed the grant of summary judgment for Defendant, finding that: Plaintiff met his “relatively light” burden for making a prima facie case because his firing occurred soon after his protected activity (making a worker’s compensation claim); Defendant met its burden of showing a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the firing by showing the history of Plaintiff’s disciplinary problems, including his most recent violation of the internet usage policy; and Plaintiff failed to meet his burden of showing that Defendant’s proffered reason was pretextual because, even if Defendant’s reason for firing Plaintiff was based on a faulty or misinterpreted report, Vermont follows the 7th Circuit in requiring only that the employer be acting based on an honest (and not necessarily reasonable) belief in order to be granted summary judgment on the issue of pretext. Finally, the Court affirmed the lower court’s denial of Plaintiff’s motion to amend his complaint, finding no abuse of discretion where the trial court found that Plaintiff had not made a sufficient showing of good cause to justify the long delay in filing the amendment.

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