Law School Case Brief
Novosel v. Nationwide Ins. Co. - 721 F.2d 894 (3d Cir. 1983)
Pennsylvania law permits a cause of action for wrongful discharge where the employment termination contravenes a significant and recognized public policy. A cognizable expression of public policy can be derived from the First Amendment of the United States Constitution or Pa. Const. art. I, § 7. The definition of a "clearly mandated public policy," as one that strikes at the heart of a citizen's social right, duties, and responsibilities, appears to provide a workable standard for the tort action.
Plaintiff John Novosel was an employee of Nationwide Insurance Company ("Nationwide") from Dec. 1966 until Nov. 18, 1981. In late Oct. 1981, a memorandum was circulated through Nationwide's offices soliciting the participation of all employees in an effort to lobby the state legislature to pass the "No-Fault Reform Act." then before the state legislature. According to Novosel, his employment was terminated because he refused to participate in the lobbying effort and because he opposed Nationwide's political stand. Following his termination, Novosel filed a lawsuit against Nationwide in federal district court, raising claims of wrongful discharge and breach of contract. Nationwide a motion to dismiss both claims, which the district court granted. Novosel appealed.
Did the tort and contract claims proffered by Novosel state sufficient causes of action under applicable Pennsylvania state law to survive a motion to dismiss?
The court of appeals vacated the district court's judgment and remanded the case for discovery and further proceedings. The court found that it was incorrect as a matter of law to declare that no cause of action for wrongful discharge was stated under Pennsylvania law. The court ruled that Pennsylvania law permitted a cause of action for wrongful discharge where the employment termination contravened a significant and recognized public policy. In addition, Novosel's averment of discharge for refusing to support Nationwide's lobbying efforts was sufficiently violative of such public policy as to state a cause of action. Th court further ruled that Novosel's allegation that Nationwide's custom, practice or policy created either a contractual just cause requirement or contractual procedures by which it failed to abide was a factual matter that should have survived a motion to dismiss.
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