Court: At-Will Employee Can't File Tort Case If Fired for Violating Public Policy

Article excerpt

OKLAHOMA CITY (JR) -- An at-will employee terminated for a reason that violates state public policy may not bring a state tort claim for wrongful discharge if the worker has an adequate federal statutory remedy, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held Tuesday.

The case involved an employee of the Logan County Election Board, Stacy Lynne Clinton, who alleged she was fired because she was pregnant. The board argued that she was terminated because of dishonesty, unsatisfactory work performance and her general work attitude.

Clinton sued in federal court alleging pregnancy discrimination, and had asked U.S. District Court Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange to allow her to amend her complaint to add a claim of violation of public policy against gender discrimination, as set forth in state anti-discrimination law.

Miles-LaGrange asked the state court to answer a certified question based upon her gender-based discrimination claim -- that is, whether it is actionable under Oklahoma public policy tort theory -- which the justices rephrased to address Clinton's employment-at-will status.

In Oklahoma, absent contract term providing otherwise, most workers are at-will employees. They may be terminated for any reason, or no reason, without the employer incurring any liability.

However, in a 1989 case, Burke v. …