retaliatory discharge

Supreme Court Makes It Harder to Recover In Retaliation Cases

In a recent U.S. Supreme Court opinion, the high court raised the bar in litigating retaliation claims.  Dr. Naiel Nassar was employed by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.  He complained of harassment and left his job in 2006 for another job at Parkland Hospital.  The hospital, however, withdrew its job offer when one of the former medical center supervisors opposed it.  He filed suit for retaliation and his claim went to trial.  The jury awarded him $3 million.  The Medical Center appealed, contending that the trial judge improperly charged the jury with a "mixed-motive" instruction, meaning that the jury could find in favor of the Plaintiff if it concluded that retaliation was a motivating factor in his discharge.  The Medical Center argued that the district court should have given a jury instruction stating that the Plaintiff's former employer could only be held liable if the supervisor's decision was the "but-for" basis for the retaliation.  The high court agreed, and reversed the jury verdict.  The court did not rule upon the merits of the case, but sent the case back down for further reconsideration in light of its ruling.  This opinion is in line with the Supreme Court's approach taken in age discrimination cases.  Several years ago, the high court ruled that in age cases, liability would only attach if age was the "but-for" reason taken for a discriminatory action.

Appellate Court Clarifies Employment Tort of Retaliatory Discharge

On July 21, 2011, the Illinois Appellate Court issued an opinion in the case of Michael v. Precision Alliance Group, which clarifies the tort of retaliatory discharge.  Under common law, the State of Illinois prohibits an employer for retaliating against an employee and terminating their employment if they engage in protected activity.  Generally, the courts have given a narrow view to the claim.  The classic case involves an employee who gets injured on the job and files a claim against his employer for worker's compensation.  If the employer terminates the employee for that reason, it is an illegal motive, and the employee has a civil action against the employer.  In the Michael case, three employees were employed by Precision's plant in downstate Nashville.  The company is in the agricultural supply business.  It packages soybean seeds in 50 pound and 2,000 pound bags for commercial sale.  The employees observed that the company was shipping underweight bags.  The three plaintiffs recorded information about the underweight bags and forwarded the information to another individual, Dudley, who formerly worked for the company.  Dudley, in turn, passed the information to the state.  In February, 2003, the Department of Agriculture began investigating the company.  The agency issued a stop-sale order against the company on February 20, 2003.  The trial court threw the case out, reasoning that the plaintiffs did not report the activity to the state.  The appellate court reversed, reasoning that the plaintiffs intended that the information be conveyed to the state.  The court also held that mislabeling weight under state law violated public policy, and thus, the plaintiffs' retaliatory discharge claim was actionable.