SW Legal studies in Business

Public Policy Exception to Employment-at-Will Doctrine Does Not Extend to Spouses
Description The wife of a police officer was fired in retaliation for her husband having arrested her employer's wife for drunk driving. Suing for wrongful discharge, the Wisconsin high court held that she had no case because she was an at-will employee and the public policy exception for wrongful discharge would not extend to her.
Topic Employment Law
Key Words Employment-at-Will; Wrongful Discharge; Retaliation; Public Policy Exception
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Bammert worked at a supermarket in Menomonie, Wisconsin. Her husband is a police officer in the town. He arrested the wife of the supermarket owner for drunk driving. The owner of the supermarket then fired Bammert in retaliation for his wife's arrest. Bammert sued for wrongful discharge, invoking the public policy exception to the employment-at-will doctrine. The trial court and appeals court dismissed her case; she appealed.
Decision

Affirmed. The public policy exception to the employment-at-will doctrine is a narrow exception that allows at-will employees to sue for wrongful discharge if they are fired for fulfilling, or refusing to violate, a well-defined public policy or an affirmative legal obligation established by existing law. It must be based on a constitutional, statutory, or administrative provision that clearly articulates a fundamental public policy. The public policy exception does not extend to discharges in retaliation for conduct of non-employee spouses.

Citation Bammert v. Don's Super Valu, Inc., 646 N.W.2d 365 (Sup. Ct., Wisc., 2002)

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