In Esson v. Stanford Hosp. & Clinics (Cal. Ct. App., 2019), the court found that an at-will senior IT program manager for Stanford Hospital and Clinics may not proceed with her claim that she was fired because of her age. It found that she was fired for performance issues like not completing important projects timely and adequately. The IT manager argued that she had had positive reviews as an employee, but the court found that those were for the job she had prior to being the IT manager. The court also found that the hospital was not required to provide a formal warning or progressive discipline before firing her, as the employee couldn’t provide sufficient evidence that at-will employees must receive those benefits before being terminated.
This case illustrates the importance of proper documentation and consistent practices in performance management. Employers should not rely solely on at-will; they should have processes in place to back up the reasons for termination. Those reasons should be related to the business needs so that any charge of discrimination can easily be shown to be not the case.