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In general, at-will employment may be terminated by either party with or without cause. New Hampshire, however, has a judicially created exception to the at-will rule, such that at-will employees may recover in tort for wrongful discharge. To state a wrongful discharge claim, a plaintiff must allege: (1) that the termination of employment was motivated by bad faith, retaliation or malice; and (2) that he was terminated for performing an act that public policy would encourage or for refusing to do something that public policy would condemn. The first prong focuses on the nature of the employer's actions, while the "public policy" prong pertains to the employee's acts.
During a reorganization, the at-will employee, John M. Antonis, chose to become the training, certification, and safety manager of his employer Electronics for Imaging, Inc. (“EFI”). A substantial part of Antonis’ job was to assist EFI in qualifying for and maintaining "ISO 9000" certification under a safety program. Antonis was terminated. Antonis sued EFI, alleging wrongful discharge under New Hampshire common law. According to Antonis, he was harassed and terminated because he reported safety issues to management. EFI argued that Antonis was terminated because EFI decided to no longer pursue the ISO 9000 certification, making his position as safety manager obsolete. EFI moved for summary judgment.
Did EFI validly terminate Antonis’ employment, thereby warranting the grant of summary judgment EFI’s favor?
The court determined that EFI was entitled to summary judgment as to Antonis’ wrongful discharge claim because he could not demonstrate that EFI terminated his employment because of bad faith, malice, or retaliation. According to the court, there were legitimate reasons behind Antonis’ dismissal because EFI decided to no longer pursue the ISO 9000 certification. Also, Antonis offered no evidence that he was fired for pursuing EFI’s own policies. Regarding Antonis’ harassment allegation, EFI had a legitimate business reason for moving his work space.