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Law School Case Brief

Murphy v. Am. Home Prods. Corp. - 58 N.Y.2d 293, 461 N.Y.S.2d 232, 448 N.E.2d 86 (1983)


One who by extreme and outrageous conduct intentionally or recklessly causes severe emotional distress to another is subject to liability for such emotional distress. Liability has been found only where the conduct has been so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.


Plaintiff Joseph Murphy was first employed by defendant American Home Products Corp. in 1957 and thereafter served in various accounting positions. At no time did plaintiff have a formal contract of employment with defendant. In 1980 when Murphy e was 59 years old, he was discharged. Plaintiff claimed 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 contended that he was dismissed in a humiliating manner. The complaint set out causes of action for wrongful discharge, intentional infliction of emotional distress, prima facie tort and breach of contract, and subsequently, Murphy amended the complaint to add a fifth cause of action alleging that plaintiff was denied advancement due to his age in violation of section 296 of the Executive Law. The Special Term denied defendant' employer's motion to dismiss the wrongful discharge tort claim, but dismissed the other four causes of action, holidng, inter alia, that 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 Appellate Division modified to the extent of granting the motion to dismiss the first cause of action, holding that New York did not recognize a cause of action for abusive discharge. Murphy sought further review by the Court of Appeals .


Was a discharged employee entitled to damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress following the termination of his employment by the defendant?




The court held that facts alleged by the former employee fell far short of the strict standard for a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. The court held that the former employee's employment was at will, a relationship in which the law had accorded the former employer an unfettered right to terminate at any time. Under New York law, absent a constitutionally impermissible purpose, a statutory proscription, or an express limitation in individual contract of employment, an employer's right at any time to terminate employment at will was unimpaired.

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