A city employee in Bridgeport, Washington was fired on account of a $1.69 cherry pie, according to an article published by the Wenatchee World. David Greer, who was an employee in Bridgeport’s public works department for 21 years, is now filing a wrongful termination lawsuit against the city.
Greer was picking up snacks for his coworkers when he placed the pie in his pocket because he had too many things to carry. After receiving a citation for shoplifting, Greer reported the event to the mayor of Bridgeport, who placed him on 30-day unpaid leave. Greer’s ticket was dismissed after he apologized for the incident and compensated the store owner for the pie. Greer told the mayor about the settlement and was subsequently fired. The mayor stated that she fired Greer for theft, which is listed as a terminable offense in the city’s personnel manual.
Whether Greer will prevail on his wrongful discharge claim depends on Washington law. Washington is an “at-will” state, which means that an employer can fire an employee at will, without any kind of notice or procedure. Employees can also resign at will without giving any kind of notice. However, there are some instances in which an employee cannot be fired:
Public Policy Exceptions
In some cases, an employer’s reasons for firing an employee may violate public policy. In order to protect the public, an employer is prohibited from firing an employee on account of certain acts, including:
-Serving jury duty
-Filing a workplace rights complaint
-Filing a safety complaint
-Filing an injured worker claim
-Refusing to do an illegal act
In these cases, the state has determined that the public’s interest in having these public policies followed is stronger than the employer’s right to fire an employee at will.
Exceptions Based on Other Laws
Under federal and Washington state laws, employers cannot fire an employee for certain prohibited reasons, including:
-Discrimination: an employer cannot fire an employee on account of his age, race, color, gender, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, marital status, or physical or mental disability.
-Whistleblowing: an employer is prohibited from retaliating against an employee who complains about an unlawful employment practice such as discrimination or wage theft.
Though Washington is an at-will state, an employer cannot breach an employment contract or policies outlined in company handbooks. This exception also includes an implied employment contract, where the employer has made definite and clear-cut statements about the employee’s job security.
Civil Service Employees
Under Washington law, civil service employees have certain job protections. Before an employee can be fired, demoted, or suspended, the employer must give a written accusation. In addition, the employee can only be fired for cause. Grounds for discharge include:
-Neglect of duty
-Dishonest, unlawful, or disrespectful acts
-Becoming unfit for the position
-Drunkenness or drug use that interferes with duties
-Conviction of certain crimes
-Any other acts showing unfitness for civil service
Even in an at-will state like Washington, an employee cannot be fired for certain reasons. Employees who believe they have been wrongfully terminated should contact an employment lawyer to protect their rights.