In a post from earlier this week , I indicated that a new Appellate Court decision had some interesting points on wrongful discharge claim that were worth exploring. At the same time, the U.S. Supreme Court released a FMLA decision that made a few headlines.
But what I didn’t mention was this: the takeaways from these cases are something only your company’s lawyer is going to love.
First, the Supreme Court case (Coleman v. State of Maryland). It answered the “burning” question of whether public employees could sue under the “self-care” provisions of the FMLA.
Not that many of us were asking the question in the first place.
Oh, and just to confuse matters more, the court’s decision was 4-1-4. Yep, a plurality (instead of a majority) voted in favor of the decision, with one judge agreeing with the result, just not the rationale. Fortunately, FMLA Insights has tackled this issue and if you’re still reading, I recommend that blog’s analysis.
Second, back to the wrongful discharge case from earlier this week, Li v. Canberra Industries. Wrongful discharge cases are supposed to be limited only where there is a clear violation of an important public policy. That public policy is typically outlined in some statute. Yet, the Connecticut Appellate Court — in reversing summary judgment — never says what that “public policy” is in this case at all. (It does drop a footnote saying that it was never discussed below, but doesn’t explain why the court wouldn’t look at it here.)
It doesn’t have big implications — yet — for employers, but for the lawyers who handle these cases, it seems troubling that courts could let such a claim go forward without such a finding.
In that same case, the court also reversed summary judgment on the employee’s free speech claim under Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 31-51q saying that the plaintiff’s speech may have been been related to her termination. That assertion is enough to send it to trial.
That finding is also somewhat curious. First, the court doesn’t undertake any type of analysis under Garcetti v. Ceballos — that is, even if the employee made the speech, if it was related to her official job duties, it shouldn’t be protected either.
Second, the court doesn’t explain how a plaintiff can pursue both a wrongful discharge claim and the free speech claim at the same time. After all, a wrongful discharge claim exists only where there is not some other remedy that the plaintiff can pursue. Yet the Appellate Court doesn’t address this at all.
Thus, we’re left with decisions that raise some interesting legal issues but leave us with an empty feeling inside. From an employer’s perspective, there is one takeaway left though: Still exercise caution when terminating an individual’s employment.