SW Legal studies in Business

At-Will Employee May Bring Suit for Tort of Interference with Employment Relationship
Description An at-will employee, who was demoted, sued the manager who demoted him for the tort of interfering with his employment relationship. The Nebraska high court held that while this tort does exist, it did not apply here because the manager was acting in discretion as an agent for the employing company.
Topic Employment Law
Key Words Torts; Interference with Employment Relationship; Termination
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Huff worked for AT&T for 29 years at a Louisiana plant. He requested a transfer to Nebraska. He received recommendations from the Louisiana plant, so the transfer was granted. Huff reported to Condra who reported to Swartz. There was little contact between Huff and Swartz. Condra complained to Swartz about Huff's performance. Swartz investigated Huff's performance in Louisiana and discovered that he had once been demoted. After a heated meeting between Swartz, Condra, and Huff, Swartz demoted Huff but left his salary unchanged. Huff sought medical treatment and was diagnosed as suffering from depression due to work problems. He transferred back to Louisiana but then retired for medical reasons. He sued Swartz for the tort of interfering with his employment relationship with AT&T. The trial court dismissed the suit. The appeals court reversed, finding that there was a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether Swartz acted with malice. Swartz appealed to the Nebraska high court.
Decision Reversed. An at-will employment relationship can be the subject of a tort action for intentional interference with a business (employment) relationship. For this tort to occur there must be the following elements: 1) the existence of a valid business relationship or expectancy of such a relationship; 2) knowledge by the interferer of the relationship; 3) an unjustified intentional act of interference on the part of the interferer; 4) proof that the interference caused the harm sustained; and 5) damage to the party whose relationship was disrupted. However, in this case there was no evidence that the actions of Swartz were motivated by anything other than his evaluation of shortcomings of Huff's job performance. Swartz's actions were taken as a manager on behalf of AT&T; these were not statements to a third party to the employment relationship so did not constitute interference with Huff's relationship with AT&T.
Citation Huff v. Swartz, 606 N.W.2d 461 (Sup. Ct., Neb., 2000)

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