Learning & Development

Negligent Training—Can Terminated Employees Sue Successfully?

Fortunately for employers, the answer is No, according to a recent Oklahoma City federal court decision. But this isn’t to say you shouldn’t keep your training on point. Read on for the facts of the case.

Former employees and their attorneys have become increasingly creative when it comes to suing past employers. In addition to filing wrongful termination or discrimination lawsuits, discharged employees have sued their former employers for negligent training and supervision.

Essentially, these employees contend that a manager or supervisor wrongfully ended their employment based on the employer’s negligence in properly training or supervising the firing manager. An Oklahoma City federal court recently heard this type of claim by a terminated employee.

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The Firing

Michael DeLong was an investigator for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. He accused the department of abusing its authority and mishandling a number of issues he brought to the attention of his employer, including:

  • Reported incidents of sexual harassment;

  • Complaints about wrongdoing at NARCONON, a facility regulated by the department; and

  • His refusal to publish a report regarding NARCONON.

Ultimately, DeLong accused the department of firing him in retaliation for his complaints. In addition to maintaining a wrongful discharge claim, he sued his former employer for the negligent training and supervision of the managers who ignored his complaints and eventually made the discharge decision.

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The Tossing

The federal court in Oklahoma City dismissed DeLong’s negligent training and supervision claim. Noting that Oklahoma is still an employment-at-will state, the court said exceptions to that doctrine must be specific and narrow.

For that reason, it ruled that negligent training and supervision claims may be pursued only by a third-party nonemployee who is harmed by the negligence of an organization’s manager or supervisor. It isn’t a claim that a former employee can maintain relating to his or her own firing. (DeLong v. Okla. Ex rel Okla. Dept. of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Serv., CIV-14-1439-C (4/29/15)).

Bottom Line

Here’s hoping courts in the future will follow the Oklahoma City federal court’s ruling.