Schmidt v. Yardney Elec. Corp., 2832

Decision Date21 May 1985
Docket NumberNo. 2832,2832
Citation492 A.2d 512,4 Conn.App. 69
CourtConnecticut Court of Appeals
PartiesRichard SCHMIDT v. YARDNEY ELECTRIC CORPORATION et al.

Conrad O. Seifert, Old Lyme, for appellant (plaintiff).

Louis Ciccarello, Norwalk, with whom, on the brief, was Robert A. Fuller, Norwalk, for appellees (defendants).

Before DUPONT, C.P.J., and BORDEN and DALY, JJ.

BORDEN, Judge.

In this case, we are called upon to decide whether the principle articulated by Sheets v. Teddy's Frosted Foods, Inc., 179 Conn. 471, 427 A.2d 385 (1980), applies to the facts alleged by the plaintiff in the third and fourth counts of his complaint. We hold that it does, and that the plaintiff has stated viable causes of action in those counts.

The plaintiff's complaint is in six counts. The first and second counts purport to allege claims against his former employer, the defendant Yardney Electric Corporation (Yardney), and its parent corporation, the defendant Whittaker Corporation (Whittaker), respectively, based on the theory that they had breached an employment contract for an indefinite term by discharging him without just cause. The third and fourth counts purport to allege claims against the defendants based on a theory of the tort of wrongful discharge. The fifth and sixth counts purport to allege claims against the defendants based on a theory of the tort of negligent discharge.

The trial court granted the defendants' motion to strike the entire complaint, holding that none of the counts stated a valid cause of action. Judgment was rendered for the defendants when the plaintiff failed to replead. From that judgment, the plaintiff appeals. We find no error as to counts one, two, five and six; we find error as to counts three and four.

I

At oral argument in this court, the plaintiff conceded that the decision of the Supreme Court in Magnan v. Anaconda Industries, Inc., 193 Conn. 558, 479 A.2d 781 (1984), precludes his claims under the first and second counts. In that case, the court declined "to enlarge the circumstances under which an at-will employee may successfully challenge his dismissal beyond the situation where the reason for his discharge involves 'impropriety ... derived from some important violation of public policy.' " Id., 572, 479 A.2d 781. 1

The plaintiff's claims under the fifth and sixth counts essentially mirror those under the first and second counts, with two exceptions: The theory shifts from breach of contract by wrongful discharge to the tort of wrongful discharge; and the basis of the claim shifts from discharge without just cause to negligent discharge. The allegations of negligence are that the defendants discharged the plaintiff without stating a reason, without giving him timely and adequate prior notice, without giving him a pink slip, without giving him severance pay, without telling him of the changed status of his life insurance, disability and stock options upon termination, and by using a policy manual that had not been used before rather than following a previously established course of conduct. The shift from a contract to a tort theory is immaterial, since "[w]hether a claim resulting from ... a discharge [of an at-will employee] is framed in tort or in contract should make no difference with respect to the issue of liability." Magnan v. Anaconda Industries, Inc., supra, 572, 479 A.2d 781. The plaintiff's allegations of negligence set forth an a fortiori case with respect to the holding of Magnan v. Anaconda Industries, Inc., supra. We therefore conclude that counts five and six do not state causes of action.

II

This leaves for analysis the principal issue in this case: Whether the plaintiff's allegations in the third and fourth counts state causes of action under Sheets v. Teddy's Frosted Foods, Inc., supra. That case held that a discharged at-will employee may sue for the tort of wrongful discharge "if the former employee can prove a demonstrably improper reason for dismissal, a reason whose impropriety is derived from some important violation of public policy." (Emphasis in original.) Id., 179 Conn. 475, 427 A.2d 385; Magnan v. Anaconda Industries, Inc., supra.

The third count, directed against Yardney, alleges essentially as follows: In April, 1965, Yardney hired the plaintiff as a salaried employee under an oral employment contract for an indefinite term. From that time through May, 1982, the plaintiff was continuously employed by Yardney, and during that period he secured a number of promotions, ultimately achieving the position of vice-president of operations. His employment with Yardney is of great importance to him, affecting his home, family life and standing in the community.

That count further alleges that in May, 1982, Yardney terminated his employment without just cause. At that time, he had an annual salary of $35,000, with vested pension rights and stock options. This discharge was a willful, malicious, and vindictive act by Yardney, in that it was done because of the plaintiff's cooperation with investigators of Whittaker, Yardney's parent corporation, arising out of the following series of events: In June, 1979, some Yardney molds had been slightly damaged by a fire. Yardney's president ordered the plaintiff to falsify an insurance claim by grossly exaggerating Yardney's losses by the amount of approximately $350,000. By being ordered to participate in this falsified claim, the plaintiff's health deteriorated seriously, causing him to go on a medical leave of absence in January, 1981. At that time, Yardney told him that his position was secure and would be waiting for him on his return.

This count alleges further as follows: In April, 1982, company auditors of Whittaker contacted the plaintiff for the express purpose of questioning him about the falsified insurance claim. He fully disclosed his knowledge about the falsified claim to the auditors. By May, 1982, his cooperation with the Whittaker auditors was communicated to the officers of Yardney, and he was discharged in retaliation for that cooperation. All the other Yardney employees who similarly cooperated with the auditors were terminated as well. As a result of Yardney's willful and malicious actions, the plaintiff suffered economic and personal losses.

The fourth count, directed against Whittaker, repeats the allegations of the third count, and adds that Yardney is a subsidiary of Whittaker, that the plaintiff held vested pension rights and stock options in Whittaker by virtue of his employment with Yardney, that the two corporations share common directors, that in dismissing him Yardney was acting as Whittaker's agent, and that Whittaker approved, condoned and ratified Yardney's actions. Neither side questions that, if the plaintiff has stated a cause of action against Yardney in the third...

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    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Connecticut
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    ...violates the State's public policy and thus gives rise to a common law wrongful discharge claim. See Schmidt v. Yardney Elec. Corp., 4 Conn.App. 69, 74-75, 492 A.2d 512 (1985); Faulkner v. United Tech. Corp., 240 Conn. 576, 579-89, 693 A.2d 293 (1997). In accordance with the above authoriti......
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