Egan v. Wells Fargo Alarm Services, 93-2963

Citation23 F.3d 1444
Decision Date11 May 1994
Docket NumberNo. 93-2963,93-2963
Parties146 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2443, 128 Lab.Cas. P 57,679 Thomas H. EGAN, Appellant, v. WELLS FARGO ALARM SERVICES, also known as Baker Protective Services, Inc., Appellee.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)

Clyde E. Craig, St. Louis, MO, (argued), for appellant.

Thomas M. Hanna, St. Louis, MO, (argued), for appellee.

Before BOWMAN, Circuit Judge, BRIGHT and ROSS, Senior Circuit Judges.

BRIGHT, Senior Circuit Judge.

Thomas H. Egan, a former employee of Wells Fargo Alarm Services, brought this action for damages, reinstatement and other relief alleging that Wells Fargo, although authorized to terminate Egan for excessive absence under his union collective bargaining agreement, actually discharged him in retaliation for whistle blowing activity in violation of Missouri's public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine. 1

The district court 2 summarily rejected Egan's complaint, determining that as a matter of law Egan worked as a contract employee under a union collective bargaining agreement, and that therefore he could not claim protection from the public policy exception, which applies only to at-will employees. Egan appeals from the district court's grant of summary judgment dismissing the action. We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

Egan brought this wrongful discharge claim asserting that Wells Fargo, a government contractor, terminated him because he reported to company management, and then to the FBI, instances of Wells Fargo's non-compliance with the Drug-Free Workplace Act. 41 U.S.C. Sec. 701 et seq. (1988).

In an unpublished memorandum opinion, the district court related these undisputed facts: that the terms of the collective bargaining agreement between Wells Fargo and Local Union No. 1, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, AFL-CIO, governed Egan's employment; that under the collective bargaining agreement absence from work for more than twelve months breaks an employee's seniority and such break is the equivalent of termination; and that Egan absented himself from work for a period in excess of twelve months.

The district court granted Wells Fargo's Motion for Summary Judgment on the grounds that Egan possessed no valid state law claim. The district court determined (1) that Egan did not qualify as an at-will employee because of his coverage under the union contract, and (2) that the Missouri public policy exception does not apply to contract employees, citing Komm v. McFliker, 662 F.Supp. 924, 924-25 (W.D.Mo.1987) and Luethans v. Washington University, 838 S.W.2d 117, 120 (Mo.Ct.App.1992) (dictum).

II. DISCUSSION

We review a grant of summary judgment de novo, applying the same standard used by the district court. Rafos v. Outboard Marine Corp., 1 F.3d 707, 708 (8th Cir.1993). Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id.; Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).

Egan concedes at the outset that under Missouri law, contract employees--those employed for a "definite term" and who cannot be discharged without just cause--have no state law cause of action for wrongful discharge. See Komm, 662 F.Supp. at 924-25 (Missouri public policy exception limited to at-will employment relationships); Luethans, 838 S.W.2d at 120 n. 1 (same). Thus, the sole issue in this case is whether Egan was a contract employee or an employee-at-will. Although resolving this issue compels us to examine Egan's status under the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement between Wells Fargo and Egan's union, we agree with the appellee that Egan's preemption arguments are irrelevant. Egan asserts a cause of action under state law; he can only maintain that action if he is an at-will employee.

Egan contends that he served as an at-will employee because his union collective bargaining contract fails to specify a term of employment, and further lacks specific language limiting the employer's discharge rights to instances in which it can demonstrate "just cause".

We reject Egan's argument. The collective bargaining agreement grants non-probationary union employees such as Egan job protection during the three-year term of the union contract by providing "continued employment" of union members (Article II); protection against "lockouts" (Article VII, Section 1); seniority rights relating to filling vacancies, job creations, decreases in force, layoffs and rehiring after layoffs (Article VIII); wage protections and other benefits (Article XI, XII); and procedures for employees to grieve alleged violations by Wells Fargo of its obligations under the agreement (Article XIII). Moreover, Article XV impliedly contrasts the contract rights of non-probationary employees with those of probationary employees. The employer has the right to discharge probationary employees "with or without cause"; probationary employees cannot avail themselves of Article XIII grievance procedures. While the agreement does not contain an explicit "just cause" or "good cause" provision, the clear implication of Article XV is that non-probationary union employees, in contrast to probationary employees, may not be terminated at-will or without good cause. Thus, a worker's employment appears to continue for the duration of that collective bargaining agreement (a "definite term"), so long as he remains a union member in good standing, and so long as he is not discharged for just cause.

Viewed as a whole, the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement support the district court's conclusion that Egan was a contract employee, not one at-will. Thus, the district court did not err in refusing to give Egan the benefit of the public policy exception. 3

III. CONCLUSION

Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the district court based on its well-reasoned opinion, supplemented by the analysis and authorities cited above.

1 Missouri's at-will employment doctrine provides that "an employer can discharge for cause or without cause an at-will employee who does not otherwise fall within the protective reach of a contrary statutory provision." Boyle v. Vista Eyewear, Inc., 700 S.W.2d 859, 870-71 (Mo.Ct.App.1985) (internal citation omitted). Boyle, however, recognized a narrow exception to the at-will...

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