Last summer, an Ohio appellate court concluded that retaliation against
employees who raise concerns over fire safety violates a clear public policy
generally favoring fire safety in the workplace. Last week, the Ohio Supreme
Court took away the employee's victory, and provides ammunition for employers
to seek dismissal of vague and nebulous public policy claims.
Before we get to the specifics of Dohme v. Eurand Am., Inc. (9/15/11) [pdf] [an enhanced version of this opinion is available to lexis.com
subscribers], some background. In Ohio, the termination of an
at-will employee usually does not give rise to an action for damages. If,
however, a discharge that jeopardizes a clear public policy articulated in the
Ohio or United States Constitutions, federal or state statutes, administrative
rules and regulations, or common law may create a cause of action for wrongful
discharge in violation of that public policy.
In Dohme, the plaintiff merely claimed that his
termination "jeopardized workplace safety." The appellate court saved his claim
by articulating a public policy favoring workplace fire safety, supported by
citations to various state and federal statutes and regulations. The Supreme
Court correctly concluded that is not a court's job to engage in a search and
rescue for a public policy to support a wrongful termination claim:
As the plaintiff, Dohme has the obligation to specify the
sources of law that support the public policy he relies upon in his claim.
Because Dohme did not back up his assertion of a public policy of workplace
safety in his summary judgment documents with specific sources of law, he has
not articulated the clarity element with specificity. Unless the plaintiff
asserts a public policy and identifies federal or state constitutional
provisions, statutes, regulations, or common law that support the policy, a
court ... may not fill in the blanks on its own....
It's a big deal whenever the Ohio Supreme Court issues an
employment law decision. It only happens once or twice a year. This case,
however, really is not that big of a deal. This case is more about the proper
role of courts in litigation and less about the wrongful discharge tort. It
sends a message to plaintiffs that it is not the role of courts to make sense
of their claims for them.
Visit the Ohio Employer's Law Blog for more
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