Can I Be Fired for Sexual Harassment When I'm Innocent?
In sexual harassment cases, employers often fire the offending employee as a way of avoiding any future liability. An employer does not have to prove that the employee actually “sexually harassed” anybody. The test is whether the employer has a reasonable belief that the harasser sexually harassed someone.
It is irrelevant whether the accusation is true or not. All that is required is that the employer believed that the sexual harassment may have happened. The employer has the right to protect itself against a potential claim. Unfortunately, this means that the alleged harasser may have been innocent and unfairly terminated.
The only way the alleged harasser can prevail in a wrongful termination suit is when the real reason for the termination was not for sexual harassment, but the employer wanted to get rid of the employee for an illegal reason. For example, if the real reason the employee was terminated was because the employee is complaining about not getting paid for overtime.
Therefore, the key question is what is the real reason for the termination? Was it because of the sexual harassment? Or, was it because of the complaint? It is not necessary that the discharged employee prove what the primary motive was, but only that an illegal reason substantially caused the termination.