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Virginia Supreme Court Remands Public Policy Wrongful Termination Case For Trial

Published by on January 5, 2009

In Schmidt vs. Triple Canopy, Inc., decided December 12, 2008, the Virginia Supreme Court remanded a public policy wrongful discharge case for trial in the Circuit Court for improper jury instructions.  A copy of the opinion can be found here.  More after the break. In the original trial, the trial court gave a jury instruction […]

In Schmidt vs. Triple Canopy, Inc., decided December 12, 2008, the Virginia Supreme Court remanded a public policy wrongful discharge case for trial in the Circuit Court for improper jury instructions.  A copy of the opinion can be found here.  More after the break.

In the original trial, the trial court gave a jury instruction that stated that the plaintiffs had to prove that they were fired “just because” they reported their supervisor’s actions.  The instruction also advised the jury that they must find for the employer if the company “had any reason to fire plaintiffs other than for reporting (their supervisor’s) alleged misconduct.”  The Supreme Court found that these two instructions misstated the law to the jury. 

The court pointed out the correct instruction stated that if the employer had fired the plaintiffs for failing to engage in criminal conduct then the jury should find for the plaintiffs, but if the employer fired the plaintiffs for reasons other than failing to engage in criminal misconduct, then the jury should find for the employer.  The court noted its prior holdings that in wrongful termination cases a plaintiff is not required to prove that the employer’s improper motive was the sole cause of the wrongful termination. 

The Schmidt case is a timely reminder that the Bowman cause of action for public policy wrongful discharge is alive and well in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  The plaintiffs in Schmidt had claimed that they were wrongfully terminated for reporting the alleged criminal activity of their supervisor, and if they had concealed this alleged criminal activity, they would have committed a criminal offense themselves.

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