Vague No More: Ohio Supreme Court Sets New Requirements for Wrongful Termination Cases

In its decision on September 15, 2011, the Ohio Supreme Court narrowed what is required to establish a claim of wrongful termination in violation of public policy.  Now, to support a claim of wrongful termination a plaintiff must identify a specific constitution, statute, regulation or rule.  General references to “public policy” will no longer suffice.

The case is Dohme v. Eurand America, Inc.  Randall Dohme filed suit against his employer alleging his termination was in violation of public policy because it “jeopardized workplace safety and placed employees in [an] unreasonable and dangerous setting.”  Dohme claimed that he was fired after he expressed concerns about workplace safety to an insurance adjuster who was conducting an on-site evaluation.  Notably, Dohme did not cite a specific constitution, statute, regulation, or rule to support his claim, instead relying on a general “public policy” in Ohio. 

Eurand denied Dohme’s claim, maintaining that his termination was a result of insubordination.  Prior to the insurance inspector’s visit, Eurand employees were instructed that only certain individuals were to speak with the insurance adjuster and Dohme was not identified as an individual with that authorization. The trial granted summary judgment in favor of Eurand, but the court of appeals reversed finding Dohme’s allegations were enough to support his claim.

The Ohio Supreme Court disagreed with the appellate court, reinstating judgment in favor of Eurand:

“[W]e conclude that to satisfy the clarity element of a claim of wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, a terminated employee must articulate a clear public policy by citation to specific provisions in the federal or state constitution, federal or state statutes, administrative rules and regulations, or common law. A general reference to workplace safety is insufficient to meet the clarity requirement.”

The impact of this employer-friendly holding will undoubtedly change the landscape of wrongful termination cases.  Now, plaintiffs will be required to identify a specific public policy when making a public policy wrongful discharge claim, limiting their ability to bring “novel” claims based on public policy arguments that have not been memorialized in law or regulation.

For more information, please contact Patrick Peters at ppeters@beneschlaw.com or (216) 363-4434.

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