SW Legal studies in Business

Employee Fired for Refusing to Perform Illegal Act Must Prove Illegality
Description Appeals court reversed a jury verdict for an employee who contended he was fired for refusing to perform an illegal act-copy software on to a company computer. The employee may have believed the act was illegal, but did not prove that it was in fact illegal, so they have no suit.
Topic Employment Law
Key Words Wrongful Discharge; Public Policy; Illegal Act; Retaliation
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Cummins worked for MIGS, a small plastics company in Arizona, where he did computer work. He was asked a couple times to copy some Bible-study software on to the computer of another employee. He refused, saying the copying may be illegal. Later Cummins was fired. He sued for wrongful discharge based on retaliation for his refusal to engage in an illegal act in violation of public policy. The jury awarded Cummins $185,000 in damages. MIGS appealed.
Decision Reversed. Cummins was an at-will employee. An employee may sue an employer for wrongful discharge if the reason for the discharge is because the employee refused to commit an illegal act, whether that act would be a violation of state or federal law. Cummins failed to establish that copying the software was illegal. He may have had a good faith belief that the copying was illegal, but that is not sufficient. He must establish illegality-in-fact. This requirement "protects employers from suit based on an employee's mistaken, albeit good faith, belief that certain conduct is illegal." The jury's verdict is vacated and the suit dismissed.
Citation Cummins v. Mold-In Graphic Systems, - P.3d - (2001 WL 604906, Ct. App., Ariz., 2001)

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