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STANLEY L. PHILLIPS v. BABCOCK & WILCOX (01/17/86)

filed: January 17, 1986.

STANLEY L. PHILLIPS, APPELLANT,
v.
BABCOCK & WILCOX, TUBULAR PRODUCTS DIVISION OF MCDERMOTT, INC.



Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Beaver County, Civil Division, at No. 794 of 1984.

COUNSEL

Samuel S. Blaufeld, Pittsburgh, for appellant.

Brian J. Dougherty, Pittsburgh, for appellee.

Spaeth, President Judge, and Brosky and Rowley, JJ. Spaeth, President Judge,*fn* files a dissenting opinion.

Author: Brosky

[ 349 Pa. Super. Page 352]

This is an appeal from the order granting appellee's motion for summary judgment and dismissing appellant's complaint in this civil action for the tort of wrongful discharge.

Appellant's sole issue is whether a civil action for the tort of wrongful discharge can be maintained by a union employee whose employment relationship is governed by a collective bargaining agreement. The trial court found that such an action is unavailable to employees who are protected from peremptory discharge by some other means, i.e. contract or statute. Since under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement appellant was protected from suspension or discharge without proper cause, the trial court granted appellee's motion for summary judgment. We affirm.

Appellant was hired as an electrician in appellee's plant in 1968 and is a member of the United Steel Workers of America. In September, 1982 appellant was laid off as part of a general economic layoff. While still laid off, appellant filed a claim for workmen's compensation alleging a job related loss of hearing. When appellee began to call its employees back to work in April of 1984, appellant was not reinstated. Appellant filed a grievance according to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement between the Union and appellee which grievance was sustained.

[ 349 Pa. Super. Page 353]

During the pendancy of the arbitration proceedings concerning his grievance, appellant filed the instant action for wrongful discharge. Appellant contends that his discharge was made in retaliation for filing the workmen's compensation claim. Thus, appellant argues that since retaliatory firing in response to an employee's filing a workmen's compensation claim is against public policy, he should be able to maintain the cause of action even though he is, concededly, not an at-will employee. We do not agree.

The action for wrongful discharge in Pennsylvania was judicially established by our Supreme Court in the case of Geary v. United States Steel Corporation, 456 Pa. 171, 319 A.2d 174 (1974). In Geary, the Supreme Court carved out a very narrow exception to the established law (commonly referred to as the "at-will doctrine") which held that absent a statutory or contractual provision to the contrary, either party could terminate an employment relationship for any or no reason. The Supreme Court held that where no clear mandate of public policy is violated by the termination of an at-will employment relationship, an employee at will has no cause of action for wrongful discharge. Thus, implicit in the holding is that an employee at will can maintain a wrongful discharge action where a clear mandate of public policy has been violated by the termination.

Since the Geary decision, the courts of this Commonwealth have entertained suits by at-will employees where their discharges violated clear mandates of public policy. In Reuther v. Fowler & Williams, Inc., 255 Pa. Super. 28, 386 A.2d 119 (1978), this Court held that the cause of action exists where the employee at will is discharged for performing an obligation of jury service. Thus, since Geary, at-will employees have been afforded the opportunity to prove in court claims for arbitrary and retaliatory discharge in certain instances.

Appellant seeks to have us extend the coverage of this judicially created protection and declare the cause of action available to union employees who are otherwise protected from ...


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