CACI 2405 Breach of Implied Employment Contract—Unspecified Term—Good Cause Defined—Misconduct

California Civil Jury Instructions CACI

2405 Breach of Implied Employment Contract—Unspecified Term—“Good Cause” Defined—Misconduct

[Name of plaintiff] claims that [name of defendant] did not have good cause to [discharge/demote] [him/her/nonbinary pronoun] for misconduct. [Name of defendant] had good cause to [discharge/demote] [name of plaintiff] for misconduct if [name of defendant], acting in good faith, conducted an appropriate investigation giving [him/her/nonbinary pronoun/it] reasonable grounds to believe that [name of plaintiff] engaged in misconduct.

An appropriate investigation is one that is reasonable under the circumstances and includes notice to the employee of the claimed misconduct and an opportunity for the employee to answer the charge of misconduct before the decision to [discharge/demote] is made. You may find that [name of defendant] had good cause to [discharge/demote] [name of plaintiff] without deciding if [name of plaintiff] actually engaged in misconduct.

Directions for Use

This instruction should be given when there is a dispute as to whether misconduct, in fact, occurred. (Cotran v. Rollins Hudig Hall International, Inc. (1998) 17 Cal.4th 93 [69 Cal.Rptr.2d 900, 948 P.2d 412].)

Sources and Authority

“The proper inquiry for the jury … is not, ‘Did the employee in fact commit the act leading to dismissal?’ It is ‘Was the factual basis on which the employer concluded a dischargeable act had been committed reached honestly, after an appropriate investigation and for reasons that are not arbitrary or pretextual?’ The jury conducts a factual inquiry in both cases, but the questions are not the same. In the first, the jury decides the ultimate truth of the employee’s alleged misconduct. In the second, it focuses on the employer’s response to allegations of misconduct.” (Cotran, supra, 17 Cal.4th at p. 107.)

“ ‘Good cause’ in the context of implied employment contracts is defined as: ‘fair and honest’ reasons, regulated by good faith on the part of the employer, that are not trivial, arbitrary or capricious, unrelated to business needs or goals, or pretextual. A reasoned conclusion, in short, supported by substantial evidence gathered through an adequate investigation that includes notice of the claimed misconduct and a chance for the employee to respond.’ ‘Three factual determinations are relevant to the question of employer liability: (1) did the employer act with good faith in making the decision to terminate; (2) did the decision follow an investigation that was appropriate under the circumstances; and (3) did the employer have reasonable grounds for believing the employee had engaged in the misconduct.’ ‘Cotran did not delineate the earmarks of an appropriate investigation but noted that investigative fairness contemplates listening to both sides and providing employees a fair opportunity to present their position and to correct or contradict relevant statements prejudicial to their case, without the procedural formalities of a trial.’ ” (Serri v. Santa Clara University (2014) 226 Cal.App.4th 830, 872–873 [172 Cal.Rptr.3d 732], internal citations omitted.)

“We have held that appellant has demonstrated a prima facie case of wrongful termination in violation of his contract of employment. The burden of coming forward with evidence as to the reason for appellant’s termination now shifts to the employer. Appellant may attack the employer’s offered explanation, either on the ground that it is pretextual and that the real reason is one prohibited by contract or public policy, or on the ground that it is insufficient to meet the employer’s obligations under contract or applicable legal principles. Appellant bears, however, the ultimate burden of proving that he was terminated wrongfully.” (Pugh v. See’s Candies, Inc. (1981) 116 Cal.App.3d 311, 329–330 [171 Cal.Rptr. 917], disapproved on other grounds in Guz v. Bechtel National Inc. (2000) 24 Cal.4th 317, 350−351 [100 Cal. Rptr. 2d 352, 8 P.3d 1089], internal citation omitted.)

“[Plaintiff] contends that it was up to a jury to decide whether the [defendant] ‘honestly and objectively reasonably’ believed that her conduct was egregious enough to be ‘gross misconduct’ and that the court therefore erred in granting summary adjudication of her fourth cause of action for breach of contract. Although the elements of the Cotran standard are triable to the jury, ‘if the facts are undisputed or admit of only one conclusion, then summary judgment may be entered … .’ ” (Serrisupra, 226 Cal.App.4th at p. 873.)

Secondary Sources

3 Witkin, Summary of California Law (11th ed. 2017) Agency and Employment, §§ 219, 220, 221
Chin et al., California Practice Guide: Employment Litigation, Ch.4-C, “Good Cause” for Termination, ¶¶ 4:270–4:271, 4:289 (The Rutter Group)
1 Wrongful Employment Termination Practice (Cont.Ed.Bar 2d ed.) Contract Actions, §§ 8.22–8.26
4 Wilcox, California Employment Law, Ch. 60, Liability for Wrongful Termination and Discipline, § 60.09[5][b] (Matthew Bender)
21 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 249, Employment Law: Termination and Discipline, §§ 249.21, 249.43 (Matthew Bender)
10 California Points and Authorities, Ch. 100, Employer and Employee: Wrongful Termination and Discipline, §§ 100.25, 100.29 (Matthew Bender)
California Civil Practice: Employment Litigation, §  6:19 (Thomson Reuters)