Saturday, April 16, 2011
An Illinois appellate court just issued a decision holding that a law firm did not violate public policy by firing an employee who objected to the firm's practice of giving its clients fraudulent billings. In Rabin v. Karlin & Fleisher, the firm used invoices that made it look as if outside investigators were doing work (billed at a higher rate) really done by its own employees. One of those in-house investigators ultimately objected and refused to alter his invoices. He, of course, was then fired.
The court held that the firm's practice did not violate any law or professional conduct rule, other than the broad duty to act with "scrupulous honesty and fidelity." But that duty was to general to warrant an exception to at-will under the clear statement of public policy exception. This is obviously one of many cases interpreting exceptions to at-will very narrowly--a troubling trend where, as here, the employee is being asked to do something patently wrong. Indeed, the court acknowledged that general duties were being violated, and allowing the employer to refuse to go along with that wrongdoing. If states are serious about wanting protection against retaliation and whistleblowing (and no doubt this is an intent that's often missing), then this decision makes no sense.
Hat Tip: Alex Long