Posted on 08/24/2022
Employment contracts in California are generally terminable at will and therefore an employee can be terminated at any time, with or without just cause. But “an employer’s traditional broad authority to discharge an at-will employee may be limited by considerations of public policy.” Thus, when an employer’s discharge of an employee violates fundamental principles of public policy, the discharged employee may maintain a tort action and recover damages traditionally available in such actions.
For an actionable Tameny claim, a relevant public policy must be implicated.
The plaintiff (that is the former employee bringing the wrongful termination case) bears the burden of identifying the public policy allegedly violated.
In Hunter v. Up-Right, Inc., the California Supreme Court held that an employee’s claim of fraud and deceit was “not an action to vindicate a broader public interest” for purposes of a wrongful-termination claim. Hunter asked to work in another position, but Up-Right refused, and so he “signed a document setting forth his resignation.” Hunter won at trial on a fraud claim. But although “fraud and deceit are defined by statute, and [although] fraudulent conduct is generally condemned by society,” the statutory prohibitions against fraud did not “concern society at large” in the sense of a wrongful-termination Tameny claim. Therefore, wrongful-termination tort damages were unavailable because a claim of fraud or deceit is essentially a private dispute seeking a monetary remedy, not an action to vindicate a broader public interest.”
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