Monday, March 8, 2010

At-Will Employee May Sue For Wrongful Termination When Fired In Retaliation For Complaining About Drug-Testing Violations

The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania has ruled that an at-will employee may sue his/her former employer for wrongful termination where the employee is terminated in retaliation for making complaints about his/her employer's or supervisor's failure to comply with Federal and State mandatory drug-testing requirements, where such requirements have been adopted for the protection of the safety of the public at large.

In Oliveri v. U.S. Food Service d/b/a North Star Foodservice, District Judge James M. Munley dismissed Defendant/employer's Motion to Dismiss plaintiff's complaint where plaintiff, at-will employee, alleged that his termination by employer was unlawful in violation of the public policy of Pennsylvania. Defendant/employer was a commercial trucking company, which was required by federal regulations to perform random drug-testing on its commercial truck drivers. Defendant had employed plaintiff as a manager of transportation, an "at-will" position. During the course of his employment, plaintiff discovered that his immediate supervisor was delaying or excusing testing on several drivers, all in violation of federal regulations. Plaintiff complained to other supervisors in the company, but to no avail. Finally, plaintiff contacted an anonymous hotline that Defendant/employer maintained to allow employees to make complaints, reciting his supervisor's violations of the federal drug-testing requirements. The next day, plaintiff's supervisor told plaintiff that he knew plaintiff had complained to the hotline and terminated his employment.

Plaintiff sued Defendant/employer, alleging that despite his status as an "at-will" employee, his termination was in violation of the public policy of Pennsylvania. The Court agreed, holding that Pennsylvania courts have recognized that highway safety and the regulation of commerical trucks are significant matters of public policy, and that Pennsylvania has specifically adopted by reference the federal drug-testing regulations for commerical truck drivers that plaintiff claimed were violated by his supervisor. Therefore, the Court allowed plaintiff's claim of wrongful termination to proceed.