Davis v. DPHHS

Davis v. DPHHS, 2015 MT 264 (Sept. 8, 2015) (Cotter, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: Whether the district court properly held as a matter of law that Davis was properly terminated for good cause.

Short Answer: Yes.

Summary judgment affirmed

Facts: Donna Davis began working as an attorney for DPHHS in 2006, and was terminated in July 2011 after five years of employment. In January 2010, Davis’s superiors began receiving complaints about her work product, her manner toward coworkers, and her repeated violations of department policies. On April 19, 2011, via a late-night email to chief legal counsel for DPHHS Bernie Jacobs and the HR director for DPHHS, Kathy Bremer. Davis told Jacobs and Bremer she had been verbally assaulted by her supervisor and was fearful of going to work. They set up two meetings with her but she did not attend either one. She did not return to work after April 19, 2011, and on April 28, 2011, filed a grievance. DPHHS discharged her on June 23, 2011.

The department held an administrative hearing on Davis’s grievance in January 2012, and the hearing officer recommended the grievance be denied. The agency adopted the recommendation as its final decision.

Procedural Posture & Holding: David filed a wrongful discharge suit in January 2013, claiming she was terminated in violation of the personnel policy, in retaliation for the grievance she had filed, and without good cause. The department moved for summary judgment, and after hearing oral argument, the district court granted judgment to DPHHS. Davis appeals the district court’s ruling that DPHHS terminated her for good cause, and the Supreme Court affirms. 

Reasoning: DPHHS argues Davis was a sensitive managerial employee, entitling it to the broadest discretion under Buck v. Billings Mont. Chevrolet. The Court finds Buck has no application here, because there were no allegations in that case that the employee had disrupted the employer’s operation. Here, in contrast, DPHHS contends it terminated Davis on the basis of her failure to perform her job duties and disruption. Davis does not dispute the events that establish these allegations and constitute good cause.