Labor Law - Federal

Jeffrey D. Hanslick, Esquire
Traci Daffer Martin, Esquire

Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, reverses and remands the circuit court’s dismissal of an employee’s petition asserting a claim for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. Delaney v. Signature Health Care Foundation, No. 97419, 2012 LEXIS 694 (Mo. App. E.D., May 22, 2012), Norton, J.

Ms. Phyllis Delaney successfully appealed the Circuit Court of St. Louis County’s dismissal of her claim of wrongful termination in violation of public policy against her employer, Signature Health Care Foundation. In short, the court of appeals disagreed with the lower court’s decision that Delaney failed to establish a clear mandate of public policy required for the public policy exception to the at-will-employment doctrine, because the court found a clear public policy mandate encouraging organ donation in Missouri.

Ms. Delaney was hired by Signature as a data entry clerk. Shortly after her employment began, Ms. Delaney learned that her brother was diagnosed with kidney failure and required a kidney transplant to survive. Ms. Delaney discovered she was a viable candidate for the transplant and informed her employer that she would be unable to work for four weeks after the surgery. After consenting to Ms. Delaney’s request, Signature retracted its consent three days before the surgery by informing Ms. Delaney that it could not hold her position for four weeks. Subsequently, Signature discharged Ms. Delaney.
Ms. Delaney filed suit against Signature alleging wrongful termination in violation of public policy. The circuit court granted Signature’s motion to dismiss, and Ms. Delaney appealed.

Held: Reversed and remanded. The Missouri court of appeals for the Eastern District disagreed with the circuit court as to whether Delaney’s petition, alleging that she was discharged as a result of her decision to become an organ donor, set forth a sufficient wrongful discharge claim under the third category of the public policy exception to the at-will-employment doctrine. The third category of the public policy exception protects employees “acting in a manner public policy would encourage” from termination. The court discerned that Missouri has a clear mandate of public policy encouraging organ donation from Missouri’s statutes which establish an advisory committee to educate the public on the importance of organ donation, create a “Be an Organ Donor” license plate in order to promote the organ donor program, and grant thirty days paid leave to state employees serving as an organ donor. Thus, the court found Delaney’s petition to set forth a submissible claim under the public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine, because Ms. Delaney was acting in accordance with Missouri’s public policy supporting organ donation. The court reversed the trial court’s judgment dismissing Delaney’s petition and remanded the cause for further proceedings. (See also summary of this case under Labor Law, supra).