773 N.E.2d 526 (Ohio 2002), 2001-1303, Wiles v. Medina Auto Parts

Docket Nº:2001-1303.
Citation:773 N.E.2d 526, 96 Ohio St.3d 240, 2002-Ohio-3993
Opinion Judge:Cook, J.
Party Name:WILES, Appellant, v. MEDINA AUTO PARTS, Appellee.
Attorney:Andrew S. McIlvaine and Thomas E. Palecek, Wadsworth, for appellee. Michael Terrence Conway, for appellant. Andrew S. McIlvaine and Thomas E. Palecek, for appellee. Gittes & Schulte and Frederick M. Gittes; Louis A. Jacobs; Law Offices of John S. Marshall and Joshua J. Morrow, urging reversal fo...
Judge Panel:MOYER, C.J., and LUNDBERG STRATTON, J., concur. PFEIFER, J., concurs in judgment only. DOUGLAS, RESNICK and FRANCIS E. SWEENEY, SR., JJ., dissent. DOUGLAS, J., dissenting. [96 Ohio St.3d 250] RESNICK and FRANCIS E. SWEENEY, SR., JJ., concur in the foregoing dissenting opinion.
Case Date:August 28, 2002
Court:Supreme Court of Ohio
 
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Page 526

773 N.E.2d 526 (Ohio 2002)

96 Ohio St.3d 240, 2002-Ohio-3993

WILES, Appellant,

v.

MEDINA AUTO PARTS, Appellee.

No. 2001-1303.

Supreme Court of Ohio

August 28, 2002.

Submitted March 27, 2002.

Page 527

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 528

Michael Terrence Conway, for appellant.

Andrew S. McIlvaine and Thomas E. Palecek, Wadsworth, for appellee.

Gittes & Schulte and Frederick M. Gittes; Louis A. Jacobs; Law Offices of John S. Marshall and Joshua J. Morrow, Columbus, urging reversal for amici curiae Ohio Employment Lawyers Association, Ohio Academy of Trial Lawyers, Ohio NOW Education & Legal Fund, and 9 to 5, National Association of Working Women.

COOK, J.

{¶ 1} The federal Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA" or "Act"), Section 2601 et seq., Title 29, U.S.Code, guarantees up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave during a one-year period for a qualifying employee needing time off to care for a relative. 1 In addition to providing substantive rights, the FMLA provides specific remedies for employees who have been aggrieved by their employer's violation of the Act. This case asks us to recognize, as a matter of Ohio common law, a cause of action for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy based solely on an employer's violation of the FMLA. Because allowing such a claim is unnecessary to vindicate the policy goals of the FMLA, we decline to do so.

[96 Ohio St.3d 241] I

{¶ 2} According to his complaint, the appellant, Herb Wiles, began working for Medina Auto Parts in 1993. In April 1999, Wiles requested and received permission to take a two-week leave of absence to care for his father, who had been injured in an automobile accident. At the time he requested the leave of absence, Wiles earned $21.20 per hour as a store manager. When Wiles returned to work after the leave of absence, however, Medina Auto Parts lowered his pay rate to $11 per hour and demoted him from manager to counter person. Medina Auto Parts also transferred Wiles to a different store.

{¶ 3} In January 2000, Wiles filed a complaint in the Medina County Court of

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Common Pleas alleging that Medina Auto Parts had constructively discharged him in retaliation for exercising his rights under the FMLA. Despite citing the FMLA in his complaint, Wiles did not seek recovery under the Act's remedial provisions. Rather, Wiles asserted a state common-law cause of action, alleging that the actions of Medina Auto Parts constituted a wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. See, generally, Greeley v. Miami Valley Maintenance Contrs., Inc. (1990), 49 Ohio St.3d 228, 551 N.E.2d 981.

{¶ 4} Medina Auto Parts moved for summary judgment on the basis that Ohio does not recognize a cause of action for wrongful discharge that is based solely on the public policy expressed in the FMLA. The trial court granted the motion and the court of appeals affirmed. The cause is now before this court on the allowance of a discretionary appeal.

II

{¶ 5} The common-law doctrine of employment at will generally governs employment relationships in Ohio. Under this doctrine, a general or indefinite hiring is terminable at the will of either the employee or the employer; thus, a discharge without cause does not give rise to an action for damages. Collins v. Rizkana (1995), 73 Ohio St.3d 65, 67, 652 N.E.2d 653; see, also, Mers v. Dispatch Printing Co. (1985), 19 Ohio St.3d 100, 19 OBR 261, 483 N.E.2d 150, paragraph one of the syllabus. In response to perceived abuses of the at-will principle, a number of states created an exception that permitted a discharged employee to assert a tort cause of action for wrongful discharge in violation of a fundamental public policy. See Tameny v. Atlantic Richfield Co. (1980), 27 Cal.3d 167, 172, 164 Cal.Rptr. 839, 610 P.2d 1330; Phung v. Waste Mgt., Inc. (1986), 23 Ohio St.3d 100, 104, 23 OBR 260, 491 N.E.2d 1114 (Clifford F. Brown, J., dissenting) (collecting cases). After first declining to do so in Phung, this court followed the [96 Ohio St.3d 242] national trend in Greeley, supra, and recognized a cause of action in tort for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. Specifically, we held that "[p]ublic 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." Greeley at paragraph one of the syllabus. Thus, after Greeley, an employee terminated in violation of a statute could maintain a common-law action for damages.

{¶ 6} In the years following Greeley, this court expanded and otherwise refined the scope of the wrongful-discharge tort. We have held that a valid Greeley claim is not limited to situations where the discharge violates a statute. Instead, the "clear public policy" sufficient to justify a wrongful-discharge claim "may also be discerned as a matter of law based on other sources, such as the Constitutions of Ohio and the United States, administrative rules and regulations, and the common law." Painter v. Graley (1994), 70 Ohio St.3d 377, 639 N.E.2d 51, paragraph three of the syllabus (overruling Tulloh v. Goodyear Atomic Corp. [1992], 62 Ohio St.3d 541, 584 N.E.2d 729). In addition to expanding the potential sources of the "clear public policy" for purposes of a Greeley claim, Painter also suggested defining the tort by using the four elements described by then Villanova Law School professor (now Dean and Professor of Law at Chicago-Kent College of Law) Henry H. Perritt, Jr.:

{¶ 7} " '1. That clear public policy existed and was manifested in a state or federal constitution, statute or administrative regulation, or in the common law (the clarity element).

{¶ 8} " '2. That dismissing employees under circumstances like those involved in

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the plaintiff's dismissal would jeopardize the public policy (the jeopardy element).

{¶ 9} " '3. The plaintiff's dismissal was motivated by conduct related to the public policy (the causation element).

{¶ 10} " '4. The employer lacked overriding legitimate business justification for the dismissal (the overriding justification element).' (Emphasis sic.)" Painter, 70 Ohio St.3d at 384, 639 N.E.2d 51, fn. 8, quoting H. Perritt, The Future of Wrongful Dismissal Claims: Where Does Employer Self Interest Lie? (1989), 58 U.Cin.L.Rev. 397, 398-399. See, also, 2 Perritt, Employee Dismissal Law and Practice (4th Ed.1998) 3-4, Section 7.1.

{¶ 11} Less than one year after deciding Painter, this court formally adopted Professor Perritt's framework as the four elements of an Ohio common-law claim for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. Collins, 73 Ohio St.3d at 69-70, 652 N.E.2d 653. We further established that the clarity and jeopardy elements were questions of law to be decided by the court while factual issues [96 Ohio St.3d 243] relating to the causation and overriding justification elements were generally for the trier of fact to resolve. Id. at 70, 652 N.E.2d 653; 2 Perritt at 18, Section 7.9.

{¶ 12} In this case, Wiles bases his Greeley claim solely on the public policy expressed in the FMLA. The court of appeals upheld the trial court's grant of summary judgment for Medina Auto Parts on the basis that Ohio recognizes no such claim. Although it found the clarity element of a wrongful-discharge tort satisfied based on the FMLA's substantive provisions, the court of appeals found that the jeopardy element was lacking. We review the court of appeals' resolution of these purely legal issues using a de novo standard of review. See Cleveland Elec. Illum. Co. v. Pub. Util. Comm. (1996), 76 Ohio St.3d 521, 523, 668 N.E.2d 889; see, also, Doe v. Shaffer (2000), 90 Ohio St.3d 388, 390, 738 N.E.2d 1243 ("We review the grant of summary judgment de novo ").

{¶ 13} Based on the analytic framework adopted in Collins, our first...

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