Sullivan v. Continental Construction of Montana, LLC, 2013 MT 106 (April 23, 2013) (5-0) (Morris, J.)
Issue: (1) Whether the district court properly held that Continental had good cause to terminate Sullivan’s employment; (2) whether Continental improperly considered hearsay evidence in deciding to terminate Sullivan’s employment; (3) whether the district court improperly considered hearsay evidence in deciding that Continental had good cause to terminate Sullivan’s employment; and (4) whether the district court properly concluded that Continental did not violate the provisions of its employee handbook when it terminated Sullivan’s employment.
Short Answer: (1) Yes; (2) no; (3) no; and (4) yes.
Facts: Continental Construction operates from its headquarters in Florida. It hired Michael Sullivan as a construction site supervisor in April 2008. Sullivan supervised many of Continental’s construction employees in Montana, and worked with many of Continental’s subcontractors and clients. Sullivan left Montana on a scheduled vacation on Oct. 21, 2010. John Cecil, Continental’s VP of construction, traveled to Montana from Florida to replace Sullivan while he was on vacation. A group of employees approached Cecil and said they were unhappy with Sullivan as a supervisor. Cecil understood the employees to be threatening to quit unless Sullivan was immediately terminated as their supervisor.
Cecil spoke with Continental’s office manager in Florida, Peg Wilson, who instructed Cecil to interview each employee individually about their experiences with Sullivan. Cecil and John Wallace, another Continental employee, did so the next day. The interviews revealed that many employees heard Sullivan routinely make derogatory comments about Continental’s management to employees and non-employees, as well as derogatory comments to employees and subcontractors about their work. Several employees said that Sullivan often showed up late for work, and would disappear for long periods of time during his shift. Many felt that Sullivan negatively affected employee morale.
Wallace shared his notes from the employee interviews with Continental management, who decided to terminate Sullivan immediately. Continental called Sullivan to notify him he was being fired, and sent him a letter setting forth the reasons.
Procedural Posture & Holding: Sullivan sued Continental for wrongful discharge, and Continental defended on the grounds that it had a valid business reason to terminate Sullivan’s employment. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and the district court granted Continental’s motion. Sullivan appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.