Saturday, October 01, 2005

employment - wrongful discharge - employment at-will exception expanded

Rothrock v. Rothrock Motor Sales, Inc. - Pennsylvania Supreme Court - September 28, 2005 - majority - concurring

The limited exception to the employment at-will doctrine was expanded in this wrongful discharge case. Previous exceptions protected people who had filed claims for workers' compensation (Shick v. Shirey, 716 A2d 283 (Pa. 1998)) and unemployment compensation (Highhouse v. Avery Transportation, 660 A2d 1374 (Pa. Super. 1994) , or who had refused to submit to a polygraph test (Kroen v. Bedway Security Agency, 633 A2d 628 (Pa. Super. 1993.)

Here, the court held that public policy requires giving a cause of action for wrongful discharge to a supervisor who, contrary to the employer's direction, refuses to dissuade a subordinate from seeking worker's comp. benefits. The court held this ruling was "a necessary corollary to the policy established in Shick", and that a supervisory employee who is terminated in such a situation has a cause of action for wrongful discharge.

"[T]here is little doubt that the policy of protecting subordinate employees' rights to seek WC benefits will be well-nigh eliminated if employers can avoid the rule of Shick by pressuring and firing supervisors who do not or cannot coerce subordinate employees into foregoing their rights. Moreover, it would be equally repugnant for this Court to turn its back on such supervisors, who amount to innocent pawns in a conflict between employer and subordinate employee, and, nevertheless, would find themselves out of employment without cause or recourse absent this decision."

Donald Marritz, staff attorney
MidPenn Legal Services - Gettysburg