Pennsylvania employers can terminate most at-will employees for any or no reason as long as the firing doesn’t violate state, local or federal law. However, there is a narrow “public policy” exception that protects some at-will employees—although they’ll find it’s a very difficult exception on which to mount a winning lawsuit.
Recent case: Morgan Stanley fired Richard McComb, an at-will employee, simply telling him that his services were no longer needed.
McComb believed he had been fired because he complained to the company about the way its health plan administrator had handled his medical records. Shortly after McComb complained about the slow processing of some paperwork, the administrator called HR to complain about McComb’s demeanor during the phone call. McComb then accused the administrator of disclosing protected medical information.
McComb sued, alleging wrongful discharge and arguing that firing him for reporting an alleged violation of the federal HIPAA rules violated public policy. But Morgan Stanley argued Pennsylvania law didn’t cover employees who complained internally about a potential federal law violation.
The court agreed and threw out the claim. It said that an at-will employee who alleges a public-policy wrongful discharge must show that he complained to a Pennsylvania Commonwealth agency. An internal complaint won’t cut it. (McComb v. Morgan Stanley, No. 07-1049, WD PA, 2008)
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