Oklahoma court tosses negligent training and supervision claims

published in McAfee & Taft EmployerLINC | August 21, 2015

By Charles S. Plumb

Former employees and their attorneys have become increasingly creative when it comes to suing past employers. In addition to filing wrongful termination or discrimination lawsuits, discharged employees have sued their former employers for negligent training and supervision. Essentially, they contend that a manager or supervisor wrongfully ended their employment based upon the employer’s negligence in properly training and supervising the firing manager. An Oklahoma City federal court recently rejected this type of claim by a terminated employee.

The firing

Michael DeLong was an investigator for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. DeLong accused the Department of abusing its authority and mishandling a number issues he brought to the attention of his employer, including:

  • reported incidents of sexual harassment;
  • complaints about wrongdoing at NARCONON, a facility regulated by the Department; and
  • his refusal to publish a report regarding NARCONON.

Ultimately, DeLong accused the Department of firing him in retaliation for his complaints. In addition to maintaining a wrongful discharge claim, DeLong sued his former employer for the negligent training and supervision of its managers who ignored his complaints and eventually made the discharge decision.

The tossing

The federal court in Oklahoma City dismissed DeLong’s negligent training and supervision claim. Noting that Oklahoma is still an employment-at-will state, the court said exceptions to that doctrine must be specific and narrow. For that reason, it ruled that negligent training and supervision claims may only be pursued by a third-party, non-employee who is harmed by the negligence of an organization’s manager or supervisor. It is not a claim that a former employee can maintain relating to their own firing.

Here’s hoping courts in the future will follow the Oklahoma City federal court’s ruling.

  • DeLong v. Okla. Ex rel Okla. Dept. of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Serv., CIV-14-1439-C (4/29/15)