Philadelphia, Pennslyvania Employment Law

Wrongful Termination

Pennsylvania courts have created an exception to the employment at-will rule for terminations that violate public policy. This cause of action, “Wrongful Termination”, allows a claim against the employer if the employee has been retaliated against for engaging in conduct actually required by law or for refusing to engage in conduct actually prohibited by law. See Perry v. Tioga County, 649 A.2d 186, 189 n.8 (Pa. Commw. 1994); Smith v. Calgon Carbon Corp., 917 F.2d 1338, 1344 (3d Cir. 1990).

Examples can be found in Godwin v. Visiting Nurse Ass’n Home Health Serv., 831 F. Supp. 449 (E.D. Pa. 1993) (wrongful discharge claim sustained where terminated employee refused to falsify Medicare reimbursement claims); Hanson v. Gichner Sys. Group, Inc., 831 F. Supp. 403 (M.D. Pa. 1993) (where terminated employee refused to lie to federal investigators); Brown v. Hammond, 810 F. Supp. 644 (E.D. Pa. 1993) (where terminated employee refused to bill time at attorney’s hourly rate); McNulty v. Borden, Inc., 474 F. Supp. 1111 (E.D. Pa. 1979) (refusal to participate in an allegedly illegal price-fixing scheme).

Additionally, a cause of action for Wrongful Termination may be sustained where the discharge of an at-will employee would threaten “clear mandates of public policy.” Krajsa v. Keypunch Inc., 622 A.2d 355, 358 (Pa. Super. 1993); Spriegel v. Kensey Nash Corp., 28 Pa. D. & C.4th 326 (Chester Cty 1995).

Courts have found violations of a clear mandate of public policy where an employer discharged an employee for making an unemployment compensation claim during a period where he was not working (Highhouse v. Avery Transp., 660 A.2d at 1377 (Pa. Super. 1995)); for serving on a jury (Reuther v. Fowler & Williams Inc., 386 A.2d 119 (1978)); for filing a workers’ compensation claim (Rettinger v. Am. Can Co., 574 F. Supp. 306 (M.D. Pa. 1983)); for reporting illegal acts regarding motor vehicle code violations (Shaw v. Russel Trucking Lines, Inc., 542 F. Supp. 776 (W.D. Pa. 1982)); in order to prevent pension benefits from vesting (Mudd v. Hoffman Homes for Youth, Inc., 543 A.2d 1092 (Pa. Super. 1988)); for reporting a lawyer’s violation of the Code of Conduct (Paralegal v. Lawyer, 783 F. Supp. 230 (E.D. Pa. 1992)); for complaining about occupational hazards to a state agency. Kilpatrick v. Delaware Soc’y for Prevention of Cruelty of Animals, 632 F. Supp. 542 (E.D. Pa. 1986).