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No employment protection for abuse victims

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A federal court has refused to expand common law workplace protection for victims of domestic abuse.

Recent case: Nancy worked as a broadcaster for four years until she was fired. While employed, she had ongoing problems with her husband and she wound up divorcing him because of alleged domestic abuse.

Nancy’s husband did not take the split well. He used fake email accounts to send her threatening messages at work and accuse her of having sex with a co-worker. He wrote that she was the reason “husbands kill wives.” Nancy reported this to her supervisors and police. Her ex was jailed, but when he was released, he slashed her tires and vandalized her employer’s vehicle. He was arrested again and told to stay away.

Then Nancy got a call from the district attorney’s office advising her that her ex was trying to have her and a male co-worker murdered. The DA urged them to leave town for a few days. She again told her supervisors about the threat.

That’s when she was terminated. Her employer stated, “Regrettably, recent events involving your former husband have caused severe disruption to our business and made this decision necessary.”

Nancy sued, alleging that she had been fired in violation of Pennsylvania public policy. She argued because the state has a protection-from-abuse law, its public policy is to provide employment protection to employees who have been or are being domestically abused.

The court disagreed. It said that because she was an at-will employee, she could be fired for any or no reason unless there was a specific exception. And while Pennsylvania may offer limited protection (such as restraining orders) for domestic abuse victims, that does not mean an employer can’t fire an abuse victim. (Lane v. Forever of PA, No. 3:15-62, WD PA, 2015)

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