551 N.E.2d 981 (Ohio 1990), 88-1829, Greeley v. Miami Valley Maintenance Contractors, Inc.

Docket Nº:88-1829.
Citation:551 N.E.2d 981, 49 Ohio St.3d 228
Opinion Judge:DOUGLAS, J.
Party Name:GREELEY, Appellant, v. MIAMI VALLEY MAINTENANCE CONTRACTORS, INC., Appellee.
Attorney:Cornett & Straus, Jack Cornett, Spater, Gittes & Terzian, Frederick M. Gittes, Law Offices of Andrew J. Ruzicho and Louis A. Jacobs, Columbus, for appellant. Cornett & Straus, Jack Cornett, Spater, Gittes & Terzian, Frederick M. Gittes, Law Offices of Andrew J. Ruzicho and Louis A. Jacobs, for ap...
Judge Panel:SWEENEY, HERBERT R. BROWN and RESNICK, JJ., concur. MOYER, C.J., and HOLMES and WRIGHT, JJ., dissent. MOYER, Chief Justice, dissenting. HOLMES, Justice, dissenting. WRIGHT, Justice, dissenting.
Case Date:March 14, 1990
Court:Supreme Court of Ohio
 
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Page 981

551 N.E.2d 981 (Ohio 1990)

49 Ohio St.3d 228

GREELEY, Appellant,

v.

MIAMI VALLEY MAINTENANCE CONTRACTORS, INC., Appellee.

No. 88-1829.

Supreme Court of Ohio.

March 14, 1990

Submitted Nov. 22, 1989.

Syllabus by the Court

1. Public policy warrants an exception to the employment-at-will doctrine when an employee is discharged or disciplined for a reason which is prohibited by statute. (R.C. 3113.213[D], construed and applied.)

2. Henceforth, the right of employeres to terminate employment at will for "any cause" no longer includes the discharge of an employee where the discharge is in violation of a statute and thereby contravenes public policy. (Fawcett v. G.C.

Page 982

Murphy & Co. [1976], 46 Ohio St.2d 245, 75 O.O.2d 291, 348 N.E.2d 144, modified.)

3. In Ohio, a cause of action for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy may be brought in tort. [49 Ohio St.3d 229]

On September 30, 1987, Robert Greeley, appellant, filed a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Butler County naming as defendant his former employer, Miami Valley Maintenance Contractors, Inc. ("Miami Valley"), appellee herein. Appellant based his complaint upon the following allegations:

"1. On or about April 29, 1987, the Butler County Court of Common Pleas, Division of Domestic Relations, issued an order * * * which ordered in part that plaintiff's child support payments * * * shall be made by wage assignment directed to plaintiff's employer, the defendant.

"2. Pursuant to said order, defendant was duly notified by both the plaintiff and the appropriate administrative offices of Butler County of said order directing defendant to withhold from plaintiff's wages by wage assignment appropriate child support payments.

"3. Defendant refused to do so and by and through its officers and agents did [sic ] on May 22, 1987, terminated, fired, and discharged plaintiff from his employment.

"4. Pursuant to defendant firing plaintiff, defendant was found by the Butler County Court of Common Pleas, Division of Domestic Relations, to be in violation of Ohio Revised Code Section 3113.213(D), for discharging plaintiff because of said wage assignment order, and defendant was fined $500.00 by the Court, ordered to pay the back child support defendant had refused to withhold, and the fine was suspended upon defendant's compliance.

"5. Defendant's acts were intentional, malicious, in violation of Ohio law, and directly and proximately caused plaintiff to suffer loss of employment, lost wages, mental and emotional anguish, and other losses."

Appellee filed a Civ.R. 12(B)(6) motion to dismiss the complaint, and a memorandum in support thereof, arguing that appellant's complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted because no claim sounding in tort exists in Ohio for wrongful discharge and/or no facts were pleaded stating a clear legislative exception to the doctrine of employment at will. The trial court granted appellee's motion and dismissed the complaint with prejudice.

Appellant appealed the dismissal of his complaint to the court of appeals, contending that the trial court erred in granting appellee's motion to dismiss as, according to appellant, R.C. 3113.213(D) gives rise to a civil cause of action for damages. The appellate court rejected appellant's contention and affirmed the judgment of the trial court.

The cause is now before this court pursuant to an allowance of a motion to certify the record.

Cornett & Straus, Jack Cornett, Spater, Gittes & Terzian, Frederick M. Gittes, Law Offices of Andrew J. Ruzicho and Louis A. Jacobs, Columbus, for appellant.

Baden, Jones & Scheper Co., L.P.A., and Thomas P. Erven, Hamilton, for appellee.

DOUGLAS, Justice.

The issue before us is whether a violation of R.C. 3113.213(D) gives rise to a civil cause of action for damages when an at-will employment relationship is terminated by an employer solely because of a court-ordered child support wage assignment of the employee's wages.

As a threshold matter, it is clear that we must, as a matter of law, accept all the allegations of appellant's complaint to be true. Mitchell v. Lawson Milk Co. (1988), 40 Ohio St.3d 190, 192, 532 N.E.2d 753, 756. Further, [49 Ohio St.3d 230] in O'Brien v. University Community Tenants Union (1975), 42 Ohio St.2d 242, 71 O.O.2d 223, 327 N.E.2d 753, syllabus, we held:

"In order for a court to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted (Civ.R. 12(B)(6)), it must appear beyond doubt from

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the complaint that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts entitling him to recovery. * * *" (Citation omitted.)

Considering the foregoing, the facts we must assume to be true are that appellant was employed by appellee; that pursuant to R.C. 3113.21(D), the Court of Common Pleas of Butler County ordered appellee to withhold a specified amount from appellant's wages to ensure payment of appellant's support obligation; that appellee fired appellant because appellee was made subject to the court's wage withholding order; and that appellee's act of discharging appellant was intentional, malicious, and caused appellant to suffer lost wages, and mental and emotional injury.

As a consequence, R.C. 3113.213(D) is at issue. R.C. 3113.213(D) provides in relevant part:

"No employer may use an order to withhold personal earnings * * * as a basis for a discharge of, or for any disciplinary action against, an employee, or as a basis for a refusal to employ a person. The court may fine an employer who so discharges or takes disciplinary action against an employee, or refuses to employ a person, not more than five hundred dollars." (Emphasis added.)

To begin our inquiry, we must briefly explore the legislative history leading to the enactment of R.C. 3113.213(D). In 1984, the Congress of the United States enacted the Child Support Enforcement Amendments of 1984, Pub.L. No. 98-378, 98 Stat. 1305, requiring states to provide for mandatory income withholding as a means of collecting child support. Among other things, this federal legislation requires a state plan for enforcement of child support obligations to contain the following:

"Provision must be made for the imposition of a fine against any employer who discharges from employment, refuses to employ, or takes disciplinary action against any absent parent subject to wage withholding required by this subsection because of the existence of such withholding and the obligations or additional obligations which it imposes upon the employer." (Emphasis added.) Section 666(b)(6)(D), Title 42, U.S. Code.

Subsequent to the enactment of the federal legislation, the General Assembly, in 1985, amended Ohio's child support withholding statute. As amended by Am.Sub.H.B. No. 614 (140 Ohio Laws, Part II, 4243-4245), R.C. 3113.21(J) (precursor to R.C. 3113.213[D] ) provided in relevant part:

" * * * No employer may use an order to withhold personal earnings * * * as a basis for a discharge of, or for any disciplinary action against, an employee, or as a basis for a refusal to employ a person. The court may fine an employer who so discharges or takes disciplinary action against an employee, or refuses to employ a person, not more than two hundred dollars, and may order the employer to make full restitution to the aggrieved employee, including reinstatement and back pay." (Emphasis added.)

In 1986, the General Assembly amended R.C. 3113.21 in Am.Sub.H.B. No. 509 (141 Ohio Laws, Part III, 4786, 4798-4799), deleting the above-quoted language of R.C. 3113.21(J), and enacted R.C. 3113.213(D) providing [49 Ohio St.3d 231] for a fine but not the remedies of reinstatement and back pay.

Based upon the foregoing...

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