Sunday, April 15, 2012
New York Appellate Court Issues Major Employment At Will Decision and Essentially Implies Public Policy Exception
Villarin v. Rabbi Haskel Lookstein School, 2012 NY Slip Op. 02786 (1st Dept. April 12, 2012), is a significant case.
New York is one of the most conservative employment at will states. The Legislature enacted Labor Law Section 740 to protect whisleblowers, but it has been interpreted very narrowly by courts to require an ACTUAL violation of law Bordell v. GE, 88 NY 2d 869 (1996) AND illegal activity that creates a substanal and specific danger to public health. The reporting of fraud and religious harassment of an individual has been held not to be within the protection of this statute. Leibowitz v. Bank Leumi, 152 A.D. 2d 169 (2d Dep't. 1989).
Villarin is significant because the majority holds that a school nurse at a private school is protected from being terminated because she reported child abuse. What is sigificant about this case is that the alleged abuse only concered one student. A two judge dissent felt that because the public policy did not involve a wider issue applicable to public health in general,(because only one student was involved), that this statute was not applicable.
Since two judges dissented, under New York law, this case can be appealed to the New York Court of Appeals as a matter of right. If the decision stands, like it unquestionably should, New York would essentially be recognizing a public policy exception to the employment at will doctrine at least where an actual violation of law occurred because every case would involve at least a single individual.