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Wrongful Discharge Civil Action  

Issues:A wrongful discharge civil action will lie against a Pennsylvania Employer for the discharge of an Employee when the Employee is fired for refusing to dissuade a subordinate Employee from pursuing a Workers' Compensation claim.
Case Name:Theodore C. Rothrock and Douglas Rothrock v. Rothrock Motor Sales, No. 2638 EDA 2001, Sept. 25, 2002, 17 PAWCLR 2014.
Synopsis:FACTS:     It is a family affair.  Douglas Rothrock sustained a work related injury while working for his uncle, Bruce Rothrock, the President of Rothrock Motor Sales.  Douglas= father, Ted was also employed by Bruce and acted in a supervisory capacity over his son.  Bruce demanded that Ted convince Douglas, his son, to withdraw a Workers= Compensation claim or be terminated from employment.  Ted refused and was discharged.

Decision:     Court carved out an exception to the longstanding employment Aat will@ rule by determining that Ted was wrongfully discharged, entitling him to almost $200,000.00 in compensatory damages.

REASONING:     The Superior Court drew an analogy from the Supreme Court's Decision in Shick v. Shiry, 552 Pa. 590, 716 A.2d 1231, (1998).  In Shick, the Court determined that an Employer is subject to liability for wrongful discharge if it discharges an Employee for filing a Workers' Compensation claim.  The Supreme Court reasoned that it would be against public policy for an Employer to be able to fire an Employee for exercising his/her statutory right under the Workers' Compensation Act.  (Historically, the exclusivity of the statutory remedies under the Act is the quid pro quo that Employers receive for the no fault system of compensation for Employees' injuries.)

Using this as a basis for its Decision, the Superior Court concluded that to allow an Employer to fire a supervisor who refuses to interfere with a statutory right would result in the Employer being insulated from liability for the same violation of public policy proscribed by Shick.

Court concluded that it would be repugnant to the public policy protected by Shick to permit an Employer to fire an Employee for refusing to engage in actions that violate the public policy of the Commonwealth.

Practice Points:

It is recommended that Employers do not engage in activity that can be viewed as obstructing an Employee=s rights under the Act.  Supervisors should not be encouraged to interfere in the reporting of Workers' Compensation injuries.