South-Western Legal Studies in Business

No Public Policy Exception to Employment-at-Will for Employee Who Refused to Drop Criminal Charges Against Manager
Description Virginia high court held that an employee has no cause of action for wrongful termination against an employer that fired her because she refused to drop assault charges against her manager, who was convicted of assault. State law concerning obstruction of justice does not extend to offer protection in such instances.
Topic Employment Law
Key Words Employment-at-Will; Public Policy Exception; Criminal Charges
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Rowan worked as a cashier for TSC. She believed that her manager, Snider, and other employees were embezzling money from TSC. When Rowan expressed her concern to Snider, he reacted violently by twisting her arm and pushing her against the desk. Rowan reported the matter to Snider’s supervisor, Carter, who told her to “keep her mouth shut.” Rowan sued Snider for assault and was awarded $1,500 in damages. She also reported the assault to the police and charges were filed against Snider. Another TSC manager told Rowan to drop the criminal charges. She refused and was fired. A month later, Snider was convicted to criminal assault and battery. Rowan then sued TSC for wrongful termination in violation of public policy. The federal district court certified a question to the Virginia supreme court asking if the public policy exception to the employment-at- will doctrine applied in this case.
Decision

Certified question answered. The public policy exception to the employment-at-will doctrine does not apply to a common law wrongful termination claim by an employee who alleged that she was terminated, in violation of public policy, for refusing to drop a criminal assault charge against her manager. The state statute that concerns obstruction of justice does not grant a person involved in criminal prosecution any specific right. The statute has to do with protecting the public from flaws in the legal system itself, it does not serve to protect individuals against intimidation.

Citation Rowan v. Tractor Supply Co., 559 S.E.2d 709 (Sup. Ct., Va., 2002)

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