South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Employee Has No Grounds for Wrongful Dismissal for Complaining About Air Quality
Description Appeals court held that an employee who voiced concern about the air quality at the workplace did not have grounds for a suit for dismissal in violation of public policy. The complaints by the employee did not rise to the level of a specific concern about the safety of the workplace that could allow him to claim retaliation by his employer.
Topic Employment Law
Key Words Employment-at-Will; Whistleblower; Retaliation; Cause of Action
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Jermer worked as an engineer. After employees complained about the air quality, tests showed molds to be present, some of which could harm human health. A consultant recommended changes to the heating and air condition system to help eliminate mold. Improvements were made. The next year, when some employees complained about the air, Jermer recommended buying certain filters to remove particles. His supervisor, Kroeger, rejected the idea and they argued about it. About that time, Kroeger was told to fire one of the four engineers in his area. After Kroeger recommended firing Jermer, but before he was told of the decision, Jermer called the company ethics hotline to report that the air quality issue was not being addressed. The ethics committee investigated but rejected Jermer's claim. Jermer was terminated, although he had more seniority than an engineer who was retained. He sued, claiming a retaliatory firing because he was a whistleblower. The district court held for the employer; Jermer appealed.
Decision

Affirmed. In Ohio, there may be a common law claim for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. There are four elements to a claim: 1) that a public policy existed by statute or common law; 2) that the dismissal of an employee jeopardized the policy; 3) that the dismissal was caused by an issue related to the policy; and 4) the employer lacked an overriding justification for the dismissal. The public policy here is air quality in the workplace. Jermer never gave specific safety reasons for his concerns, only vague statements were made about air quality. Further, his call to the ethics hotline came after he had been recommended for dismissal, so there was clearly no retaliation for that action.

Citation Jermer v. Siemens Energy & Automation, Inc., 395 F.3d 655 (6th Cir., 2005)

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