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The foundation of the tort of retaliatory discharge lies in the protection of public policy, and there is a clear public policy favoring investigation and prosecution of criminal offenses.
Plaintiff, Ray Palmateer, filed suit concerning his employment discharge by defendant employer, International Harvester Company. Plaintiff alleged that he had suffered a retaliatory discharge for supplying information to local law-enforcement authorities concerning a co-worker's involvement in criminal activity and for agreeing to assist in the investigation and trial of the co-worker if requested. The trial court dismissed the complaint for failing to state a cause of action. Plaintiff appealed. In a divided opinion, the appeals court affirmed that judgment. Plaintiff further appealed. The Court granted leave to appeal to determine the contours of the tort of retaliatory discharge.
Did the plaintiff state a cause of action for retaliatory discharge?
The Court, citing another case, noted a strong public policy that a cause of action existed for retaliatory discharge and that punitive damages be available to victorious plaintiffs in said future cases. The Court concluded that the second count of plaintiff's suit was improperly dismissed and remanded the action to the trial court for further proceedings. However, the Court did not find that punitive damages were appropriate. Accordingly, the lower court's judgment was affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the cause was remanded with instructions.