SW Legal studies in Business

No Wrongful Discharge for Asserted Violation of Employee's Right to Counsel
Description Appeals court held that there was no suit for wrongful discharge for an employee who asserted she was fired because she told her employer she was going to see a lawyer to discuss false charges that had been made about the quality of her work. There is a right to seek counsel, but there is no public policy exception that prevents dismissal of an at-will employee.
Topic Employment Law
Key Words Wrongful Discharge; Public Policy; Right to Counsel
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Porterfield was employed for two years as an administrative assistant at a company owned by Mascari. Shortly before she was fired, Porterfield was given an "Employee Warning Report" that stated she would be fired if she did not improve. The report asserted specific events that Porterfield claimed never occurred. Poterfield called her supervisor the next day and said "due to the seriousness of the libel contained in the document, I have been advised to seek counsel before formally responding." Her supervisor fired her immediately. Porterfield sued for wrongful discharge, contending that it is public policy in Maryland that employees be given a reasonable opportunity to consult a lawyer on important employment matters. She contends she was fired before she had the chance to do so. The trial court dismissed the suit. Porterfield appealed.

Affirmed. "For the tort of wrongful discharge, the public policy in question must be a preexisting, unambiguous, and particularized pronouncement, by constitution, enactment, or prior judicial decision, directing, prohibiting, or protecting the conduct in question so as to make the public policy on the relevant topic not a matter of conjecture of interpretation. A complaint must plead with particularity the source of the public policy and the alleged violation." There is no tort of wrongful discharge when an employee is terminated for exercising a general right of free speech. The right to engage in free speech, and other legitimate activities, does not mean there is a right to remain employed if one engages in the activity in the employment context. Violation of the general right to consult a lawyer is not enough.

Citation Porterfield v. Mascari II, Inc., A.2d (2002 WL 5564, Ct. App., Mary., 2002)

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