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Murphy v. Am. Home Prods. Corp.

Court of Appeals of New York

January 10, 1983, Argued ; March 29, 1983, Decided

No Number in Original

Opinion

 [*297]  [**87]  [***233]    OPINION OF THE COURT

] This court has not and does not now recognize a cause of action in tort for abusive or wrongful discharge of an employee; such recognition must await action of the Legislature. Nor does the complaint here state a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress, for prima facie tort, or for breach of contract. These causes of action were, therefore, properly dismissed. Appellant's cause of action based on his claim of age discrimination, however, should be reinstated. ] The period of time for commencement of a judicial action for unlawful discrimination in employment is the three-year period of CPLR 214 (subd 2) and not the one-year period prescribed in subdivision 5 of section 297 of the Executive Law.

Plaintiff, Joseph Murphy, was first employed by defendant, American Home Products Corp., in 1957. He thereafter served in various accounting positions,  [****12]  eventually attaining the office of assistant treasurer, but he never had a formal contract of employment. On April 18, 1980, when he was 59 years old, he was discharged.

Plaintiff claims that he was fired for two reasons: because of his disclosure to top management of alleged accounting  [*298]  improprieties on the part of corporate personnel and because of his age. As to the first ground, plaintiff asserts that his firing was in retaliation for his revelation to officers and directors of defendant corporation that he had uncovered at least $ 50 million in illegal account manipulations of secret pension reserves which improperly inflated the company's growth in income and allowed high-ranking officers to reap unwarranted bonuses from a management incentive plan, as well as in retaliation for his own refusal to engage in the alleged accounting improprieties. He contends that the company's internal regulations required him to make the disclosure that he did. He also alleges that his termination was carried out in a humiliating manner.

As to the second basis for his termination, plaintiff claims that defendant's top financial officer told him on various occasions that he wished [****13]  he could fire plaintiff but that, because to do so would be illegal due to plaintiff's age, he would make sure by confining him to routine work that plaintiff did not advance in the company. Plaintiff  [***234]  also asserts that a contributing factor to his dismissal was that he was over 50 years of age.

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58 N.Y.2d 293 *; 448 N.E.2d 86 **; 461 N.Y.S.2d 232 ***; 1983 N.Y. LEXIS 2925 ****; 31 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 782; 115 L.R.R.M. 4953; 98 Lab. Cas. (CCH) P55,407; 31 Empl. Prac. Dec. (CCH) P33,607

Joseph Murphy, Appellant, v. American Home Products Corporation, Respondent

Prior History:  [****1]  Appeal from an order of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in the First Judicial Department, entered June 24, 1982, which unanimously modified, on the law, and, as modified, affirmed an order of the Supreme Court at Special Term (Beatrice Shainswit, J.; opn 112 Misc 2d 507), entered in New York County, granting defendant's motion to dismiss the second, third, fourth and fifth causes of action of the amended complaint and denying defendant's motion to dismiss the first cause of action. The modification consisted of granting the motion to dismiss the first cause of action of the amended complaint.

Plaintiff was first employed by defendant in 1957 and thereafter served in various accounting positions. At no time did plaintiff have a formal contract of employment with defendant. On April 18, 1980 when he was 59 years old, he was discharged. Plaintiff claims that he was fired for two reasons: because of his disclosure of alleged accounting improprieties on the part of corporate personnel, and because of his age. Plaintiff also contends that he was dismissed in a humiliating manner. On April 14, 1981, plaintiff filed a summons in the present action with the New York County [****2]  Clerk. Another summons and a complaint were served on defendant on June 5, 1981. The complaint set out causes of action for wrongful discharge, intentional infliction of emotional distress, prima facie tort and breach of contract. On October 16, 1981, plaintiff served an amended complaint which added a fifth cause of action alleging that plaintiff was denied advancement due to his age in violation of section 296 of the Executive Law. Special Term denied defendant's motion to dismiss the wrongful discharge tort claim, but dismissed the other four causes of action. Special Term held the cause of action for breach of contract barred by the Statute of Frauds and ruled that plaintiff's allegations as to the manner of his dismissal were not sufficient to support the causes of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress or for prima facie tort. The court found the discrimination claim untimely as barred by the one-year period of limitation set out in subdivision 5 of section 297 of the Executive Law. The Appellate Division modified to the extent of granting the motion to dismiss the first cause of action, holding that New York does not recognize a cause of action for abusive [****3]  discharge.

The Court of Appeals modified the Appellate Division order by reinstating the fifth cause of action for age discrimination and, as modified, affirmed, holding, in an opinion by Judge Jones, that New York does not recognize a cause of action in tort for abusive or wrongful discharge of an "at-will" employee; that the complaint does not state a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress, for prima facie tort or for breach of contract; that the breach of contract action, however, is not barred by the Statute of Frauds; that the fifth cause of action to recover damages for an unlawful discriminatory practice under subdivision 9 of section 297 of the Executive Law is governed by the three-year Statute of Limitations set out in CPLR 214 (subd 2), and that, accordingly, said claim is not time barred.

 Murphy v American Home Prods. Corp., 88 AD2d 870.

Disposition: Order modified, with costs to appellant, by reinstating the fifth cause of action and, as so modified, affirmed.

CORE TERMS

cause of action, termination, good faith, at-will, employees, employment contract, Rights, contracts, courts, subdivision, public policy, reasons, terms, wrongful discharge, abusive discharge, obligations, discharged, duration, intentional infliction of emotional distress, age discrimination, breach of contract, right to terminate, alleges, damages, hiring, civil action, limitations, disclosure, indefinite, one-year

Labor & Employment Law, Wrongful Termination, General Overview, Torts, Procedural Matters, Commencement & Prosecution, Intentional Torts, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, Governments, Legislation, Statute of Limitations, Time Limitations, Discrimination, Actionable Discrimination, Evidence, Inferences & Presumptions, Employment Relationships, At Will Employment, Duration of Employment, Remedies, Business & Corporate Compliance, Contracts Law, Types of Contracts, Express Contracts, Contracts Law, Contract Interpretation, Good Faith & Fair Dealing, Exceptions, Implied Contracts, Employment Contracts, Breach of Contract, Age Discrimination, Scope & Definitions, Civil Rights Law, Regulators, Civil Rights Commissions, Complaints, Statute of Limitations, Civil Procedure, Pleadings, Complaints