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Falcon v. Leger

Appeals Court of Massachusetts

April 8, 2004, Argued ; October 29, 2004, Decided

No. 03-P-463

Opinion

 [**1011]  [*352]   DOERFER, J. A Superior Court jury determined that when the defendant, Robert Leger, general manager of James Monroe Wire & Cable Corp. (JM), fired Efrain Falcon, an at-will employee, he wrongfully interfered with Falcon's employment. 2 On appeal, Leger claims that the evidence does not support a conclusion that his conduct in firing Falcon from his quality control job at JM constituted "actual malice," and that the judge erroneously denied his motions for a directed verdict and [*353]  judgment notwithstanding the verdict or in the alternative for a new trial.

 [***2]  Leger argues that the evidence was insufficient to show that he was not acting within the scope of his privilege to terminate an at-will employee when he let Falcon go, and that Falcon failed to overcome that privilege with sufficient evidence that Leger acted with a "spiteful, malignant purpose, unrelated to the legitimate corporate interest." Shea v. Emmanuel College, 425 Mass. 761, 764, 682 N.E.2d 1348 (1997), quoting from Wright v. Shriners Hosp. for Crippled Children, 412 Mass. 469, 476, 589 N.E.2d 1241 (1992). We conclude otherwise and affirm.

Our examination of the record discloses sufficient evidence of malice on Leger's part to support a conclusion that he fired Falcon for Falcon's refusal to comply with his instructions to interfere with a product inspection process conducted by a private, independent testing laboratory upon which government inspectors rely to insure the safety of the public. Such conduct amounted to a violation of a clearly established public policy grounded in statutes and regulations designed to minimize potential hazards of fire and shock associated with poorly insulated electrical wire. Consequently, as Leger's actions did not comport with any legitimate [***3]  corporate interest, Falcon succeeded in establishing that Leger abused his privilege to fire Falcon.

I. Facts. 3 Background. JM manufactures wire and cable. In late 1994 and [**1012]  early 1995, Falcon and Leger worked for JM at its South Lancaster plant. Falcon began working there in 1987, mainly in the quality control department, where he was directly responsible for inspecting and testing the various types of wire and cable produced at JM to ensure that they conformed to certain safety standards prior to shipping. If during his inspections, which occurred before the wire was spooled, Falcon determined the wire to be unsafe, he would instruct the machine [*354]  operator to correct the problem. He would also report the nonconforming wire to his immediate supervisor.

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62 Mass. App. Ct. 352 *; 816 N.E.2d 1010 **; 2004 Mass. App. LEXIS 1224 ***; 21 I.E.R. Cas. (BNA) 1701

EFRAIN FALCON vs. ROBERT J. LEGER & another. 1

Subsequent History: As Corrected December 21, 2004.

Review denied by Falcon v. Leger, 443 Mass. 1102, 820 N.E.2d 258, 2004 Mass. LEXIS 909 (2004)

Prior History:  [***1]  Worcester. Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on September 9, 1996. The case was tried before Timothy S. Hillman, J., and a motion for a new trial was heard by him.

Disposition: Judgment affirmed. Order denying motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or for new trial affirmed.

CORE TERMS

wire, cable, label, insulation, tray, inspection, testing, regulations, shipping, manufacturer, termination, compound, electrical code, products, listing, malice, fired, public policy, electrical, public policy exception, quality control, public safety, laboratory, at-will, batch, safety standards, fire prevention, nonconforming, instructions, indicates

Civil Procedure, Appeals, Standards of Review, General Overview, Criminal Law & Procedure, Sentencing, Fines, Energy & Utilities Law, Pipelines & Transportation, Electricity Transmission, Business & Corporate Compliance, Real Property Law, Zoning, Building & Housing Codes, Labor & Employment Law, Wrongful Termination, Torts, Commercial Interference, Contracts, Employment Relationships, At Will Employment, Exceptions, Tort Exceptions, Public Policy Violations, Duration of Employment, Definition of Employees, Workers' Compensation & SSDI, Administrative Proceedings, Claims