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Week One Discussion

Employment Law

Read the case and answer the questions – be prepared to discuss in Virtual Class 1 

Palmateer V. International Harvester Company, 421 N.E.2d 876 (1981) 

Issue: Whether citizen crime-fighting is the type of activity that should be protected from adverse employment action. 

Facts: Ray Palmateer had worked for International Harvester (IH) for 16 years at the time of his discharge. Palmateer sued IH for retaliatory discharge, claiming that he was terminated because he supplied information to local law enforcement authorities regarding a co-worker’s criminal activities and for offering to assist in the investigation and trial of the co-worker if necessary. 

Decision: The court held for the employee, Palmateer. “The Achilles heel of the principle lies in the definition of public policy.” The court held that the employer maintains the right to fire a worker at will in cases where no clear mandate of public policy is involved. The court defined public policy as what is right and just and what affects the citizens of the State collectively. “It is to be found in the State’s constitution and statutes and, when they are silent, in its judicial decisions. . . The matter must strike at the heart of a citizen’s social rights, duties, and responsibilities.” The court therefore held that there is no concept more important or more fundamental than the one favoring the effective protection of the lives and property of citizens; and while no specific constitutional provision requires a citizen to take an active part in prosecuting crime, public policy favors Palmateer’s conduct in assisting the law enforcement agency. 

Case Questions:

· Is there a difference between the court’s protection of an employee who reports a rape by a co-worker, or the theft of a car, and an employee who is constantly reporting the theft of the company’s paper clips and pens? 

· Should the latter employee be protected? Consider that the court in Palmateer remarked that “the magnitude of the crime is not the issue here. It was the General Assembly who decided that the theft of a $2.00 screwdriver was a problem that should be resolved by resort to the criminal justice system.” 

· What are other areas of public policy which might offer protection to terminated workers?