Sunday, June 19, 2011

Exceptions to PA Wrongful Discharge Lawsuits

Before I begin to discuss some actual wrongful discharge cases that have gone to trial in Pennsylvania I want to touch on a few more general loose ends.

It is important to note that a common-law claim for wrongful discharge does not exist where there is a statutory remedy providing for administrative procedures that must be used. For instance, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held in the matter of Clay v. Advanced Computer Applications, Inc., 559 A2d 917 (Pa. 1989), that a common-law claim for wrongful discharge could not be asserted for sexual harassment and discrimination, in light of the statutory remedies available under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. The point being that if you had such claims against your employer your remedy would be only through claims under the PHRA.

Interestingly, as the law in Pennsylvania stands right now, claims for employment discrimination and sexual harassment filed only under the PHRA may not be heard by a jury, only by the court or a tribunal. This comes from the Pa Supreme Court’s holding in Wertz v. Chapman Twp., 741 A.2d 1272 (Pa. 1999). In Werts, the Plaintiff brought an employment discrimination suit against the township and its supervisors she had worked for. After her federal claims were dismissed as time-barred, she proceeded under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA), 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 951-962.2. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that the general assembly's (legislature) use of the term "court" in the statute was significant. The court held that simply because the PHRA allowed for legal relief did not translate into a legislative intent to provide for a jury trial. The court ruled that jury trials were constitutionally required only where a jury trial for the claim would have been available when the Pennsylvania constitution was adopted. Having determined that no cause of action for sexual discrimination existed at the time of the adoption of the Pennsylvania constitution, the court determined that plaintiff had no right to a jury trial under the PHRA. The side to this is that claims for sexual harassment and discrimination are covered by several federal statutes that do permit jury trials.

For those involved with a union, it is important to note that the general applications and exceptions of wrongful discharge law in Pennsylvania may not apply. This is because the terms of employment for union employees are covered by collective bargaining agreements that require the plaintiff to seek relief through the union’s agreement’s grievance procedure. Each union agreement decides the remedies available and the procedures to be followed in the event an employee believes he/she has been wronged. The Pa. Supreme Court has determined that union employment is not at-will and thus not eligible to bring a common law claim for wrongful discharge.

Next, I will begin to discuss the facts of some actual wrongful discharge lawsuits that led to verdicts…some in favor of the plaintiff and some not. Share this post :
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