Petermann v. International Broth. of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America, Local 396

Decision Date30 September 1959
Citation174 Cal.App.2d 184,344 P.2d 25
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
Parties, 44 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2968, 38 Lab.Cas. P 65,861, 1 IER Cases 5 Peter E. PETERMANN, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF TEAMSTERS, CHAUFFEURS, WAREHOUSEMEN AND HELPERS OF AMERICA, LOCAL 396; Frank J. Matula, Jr., Secretary-Treasurer of Local #396, Defendants and Respondents. Civ. 23713.

Findlay A. Carter, Los Angeles, for appellant.

Stevenson, Hackler & Ansel, John C. Stevenson, Los Angeles, for respondents.

FOX, Presiding Justice.

Plaintiff appeals from a judgment entered in favor of defendants after their motions for judgment on the pleadings were granted.

The complaint in this case consists of two causes of action. The first cause of action seeks declaratory relief adjudging that plaintiff was wrongfully discharged by the defendants (his employer) and seeks accured salary since his discharge. Plaintiff, in effect, alleges that he was employed by the defendant union 1 as a business agent. The defendant Matula, acting for the union as its secretary-treasurer, did the actual hiring and specified the duration to be as long as plaintiff's work was satisfactory. Thereafter, plaintiff was subpoenaed to testify before the Assembly Interim Committee on Governmental Efficiency and Economy of the California Legislature. Plaintiff alleges that Matula instructed him to make certain false and untrue statements in the testimony he was to give before the above committee. Plaintiff, however, gave correct and truthful answers to all questions asked of him. The following day he was discharged by Matula. Plaintiff assigns as the reason for his discharge his failure to commit perjury.

The second cause of action pertains to the issuance by the defendant union of an 'Honorable Withdrawal Card' to plaintiff. It is plaintiff's contention that the issuance of the withdrawal card was arbitrary and done with the intent to further injure him.

Defendants' demurrer to plaintiff's second amended complaint was overruled and their motion to strike denied. Thereafter, at the time of trial, defendants made a motion which was granted, after argument, for a judgment on the pleadings. Plaintiff appeals.

On an appeal from a judgment for defendants on the pleadings, 'the case is reviewed * * * the same as would be a judgment of dismissal entered following the sustaining of a general demurrer, and the allegations in plaintiffs' complaint must be taken as true, and so taken the question is whether a cause of action has been stated. (Citations.)' Gill v. Curtis Publishing Co., 38 Cal.2d 273, 275, 239 P.2d 630, 631. The sufficiency of the complaint is to be determined upon the same principles as though it had been attacked by a general demurrer. Rannard v. Lockheed Aircraft Corp., 26 Cal.2d 149, 151, 157 P.2d 1.

An examination of plaintiff's first cause of action discloses that he is predicating his right to redress upon an employment contract which does not contain any fixed period of duration. Generally, such a relationship is terminable at the will of either party (Labor Code, § 2922) for any reason whatsoever. Union Labor Hospital Ass'n v. Vance Redwood Lbr. Co., 158 Cal. 551, 554, 112 P. 886, 33 L.R.A.,N.S., 1034; De Gonia v. Building Material and Dump Truck Drivers Local Union 420, 155 Cal.App.2d 573, 583-584, 318 P.2d 486. However, the right to discharge an employee under such a contract may be limited by statute (see Elections Code, § 695; Kouff v. Bethlehem-Alameda Shipyard, 90 Cal.App.2d 322, 202 P.2d 1059) or by considerations of public policy.

'The term 'public policy' is inherently not subject to precise definition. In Maryland Casualty Co. v. Fidelity & Casualty Co., 71 Cal.App. 492, at page 497, 236 P. 210 [at page] 212, the court stated: 'The question, what is public policy in a given case, is as broad as the question of what is fraud.' Also in Noble v. City of Palo Alto, 89 Cal.App. 47, at pages 50-51, 264 P. 529, at page 530, the court said: 'Public policy is a vague expression, and few cases can arise in which its application may not be disputed. Mr. Story, in his work on Contracts (section 546), says: 'It has never been defined by the courts, but has been left loose and free of definition in the same manner as fraud.' By 'public policy' is intended that principle of law which holds that no citizen can lawfully do that which has a tendency to be injurious to the public or against the public good * * *.'' Safeway Stores v. Retail Clerks International Ass'n, 41 Cal.2d 567, 575, 261 P.2d 721, 726. (Emphasis added.)

In 72 C.J.S. Policy, at page 212, it is stated that public policy 'is the principles under which freedom of contract or private dealing is restricted by law for the good of the community. Another statement, sometimes referred to as a definition, is that whatever contravenes good morals or any established interests of society is against public policy.'

The commission of perjury is unlawful (Pen.Code, § 118). It is also a crime to solicit the commission of perjury. Pen.Code, § 653f. The presence of false testimony in any proceeding tends to interfere with the proper administration of public affairs and the administration of justice. It would be obnoxious to the interests of the state and contrary to public policy and sound morality to allow an employer to discharge any employee, whether the employment be for a designated or unspecified duration, on the ground that the employee declined to commit perjury, an act specifically enjoined by statute. The threat of criminal prosecution would, in many cases, be a sufficient deterrent upon both the employer and employee, the former from soliciting and the latter from committing perjury. However, in order to more fully effectuate the state's declared policy against perjury, the civil law, too, must deny the employer his generally unlimited right to discharge an employee whose employment is for an unspecified duration, when the reason for the dismissal is the employee's refusal to commit perjury. To hold otherwise would be without reason and contrary to the spirit of the law. The public policy of this state as reflected in the penal code sections referred to above would be seriously impaired if it were to be held that one could be discharged by reason of his refusal to commit perjury. To hold that one's continued employment could be made contingent upon his commission of a felonious act at the instance of his employer would be to encourage criminal conduct upon the part of both the employee and employer and would serve to contaminate the honest administration of public affairs. This is patently contrary to the public welfare. The law must encourage and not discourage truthful testimony. The public policy of this state requires that every impediment, however remote to the above objective, must be struck down when encountered.

Furthermore, plaintiff's allegations that the duration of his employment was for such period as his work was satisfactory; that on October 4, 1955 (the day before the legislative committee hearing), he was informed by Matula that 'his work was highly satisfactory'; that his discharge on the day following the hearing was for 'The purpose of punishing plaintiff for testifying truthfully' and 'for not committing perjury as he had been called upon to do,' raise an issue as to the good faith of the defendants in discharging plaintiff and lay a foundation, if established, for damages for their action. When one, who has been employed for such time as his services are satisfactory, is discharged it is 'well settled that the employer must act in good faith; and, where there is evidence tending to show that the discharge was due to reasons other than dissatisfaction with the services the question is one for the jury.' Coats v. General Motors Corp., 3 Cal.App.2d 340, 348, 39 P.2d 838, 841, and cases there cited; also 56 C.J.S. Master and Servant § 54b, page 462.

We are of the opinion, based upon the preceding discussion, that plaintiff alleged sufficient facts to show that his discharge was improper and that he was entitled to civil relief as a consequence thereof.

Defendants next argue, however, that plaintiff failed to state a cause of action for he failed to exhaust his remedies...

To continue reading

Request your trial
272 cases
  • Foley v. Interactive Data Corp.
    • United States
    • California Supreme Court
    • December 29, 1988
    ...into committing crimes, concealing wrongdoing, or taking other action harmful to the public weal. 4 Petermann v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters (1959) 174 Cal.App.2d 184, 344 P.2d 25, first stated the foregoing principle. There, the plaintiff, a union business agent, alleged he was ......
  • Tameny v. Atlantic Richfield Co.
    • United States
    • California Supreme Court
    • June 2, 1980
    ...an at-will employee "may be limited by statute . . . or by considerations of public policy." (Petermann v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters (1959) 174 Cal.App.2d 184, 188, 344 P.2d 25, 27 (discharge for refusal to commit perjury); see, e. g., Glenn v. Clearman's Golden Cock Inn, Inc. ......
  • Froyd v. Cook
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of California
    • March 15, 1988
    ...because of his refusal to participate in an illegal scheme to fix retail gasoline prices); Petermann v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters, 174 Cal.App.2d 184, 344 P.2d 25 (1959) (discharge of an employee who refused to commit perjury at the insistence of his employer found to be contra......
  • Elemary v. Philipp Holzmann A.G.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • February 6, 2008
    ...and employee and ... is patently contrary to the public welfare.'" Adams, 597 A.2d at 32 (quoting Petermann v. Int'l Brotherhood of Teamsters, 174 Cal.App.2d 184, 344 P.2d 25, 27 (1959)). Bill L. Harbert directs the Court to two purported flaws in Elemary's pleading. First, he charges she h......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
19 books & journal articles
  • Baldwin v. Sisters of Providence: Washington Gives at Will Employees a Gun With No Ammunition to Fight Against Unjust Dismissal
    • United States
    • Seattle University School of Law Seattle University Law Review No. 14-03, March 1991
    • Invalid date
    ...the at will rule appears in Wald and Wolf, Recent Developments in the Law of Employment At Will, 1 Lab. L.J. 533, 555-79 (1985). 19. 174 Cal. App. 2d 184, 344 P.2d 25 (1959), aff'd on remand, 214 Cal. App. 2d 155, 29 Cal. Rptr. 399 20. Id. at 186, 344 P.2d at 27. 21. Id. 22. See, e.g., Tame......
  • Wrongful Discharge
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Texas Employment Law. Volume 1 - 2014 Part I. The Employment Relationship
    • August 16, 2014
    ...1985), overruled by Kurtzman v. Applied Analytical Indus., Inc. , 493 S.E.2d 420 (N.C. 1997); Petermann v. Int’l Bhd. of Teamsters , 174 Cal. App. 2d 184, 344 P.2d 25 (Cal. App. 1959). As noted in §3:11.B, supra, Texas similarly recognized a Sabine Pilot cause of action for an employee who ......
  • Wrongful Discharge
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Texas Employment Law. Volume 1 - 2017 Part I. The employment relationship
    • August 9, 2017
    ...1985), overruled by Kurtzman v. Applied Analytical Indus., Inc. , 493 S.E.2d 420 (N.C. 1997); Petermann v. Int’l Bhd. of Teamsters , 174 Cal. App. 2d 184, 344 P.2d 25 (Cal. App. 1959). As noted in §3:11.B, supra, Texas similarly recognized a Sabine Pilot cause of action for an employee who ......
  • Begging the Federal Question: Removal Jurisdiction in Wrongful Discharge Cases
    • United States
    • Seattle University School of Law Seattle University Law Review No. 20-01, September 1996
    • Invalid date
    ...discharge claim premised upon the public policy exception to the employment at will rule in Petermann v. International Bhd. of Teamsters, 344 P.2d 25 (Cal. Ct. App. 1959). The California Supreme Court has indicated that, in order to prevail on such a claim, the plaintiff must show that the ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT