In July, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and refused to expand Mississippi’s employment “at will” exception when the employee was a willing participant in the alleged wrongful activity. The Supreme Court noted the MDLA’s amicus brief on the issue in ruling in favor of our position.
On March 2, 2015, the MDLA filed a Brief of Amicus Curiae in the case of Steven Edward Galle v. Isle of Capri Casino, Inc., et al. The Galle case involved a former employee who brought a wrongful-discharge claim under the McArn public-policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine on grounds that he was fired for reporting his employer’s illegal activity. The McArn exception prevents the firing of an employee who has reported criminal conduct on the part of his employer.
The facts revealed that Galle had been promoted to the position of Poker Room Manager at Isle of Capri in 2008. Initially, Galle was not required to obtain a “key license” to hold this position; however, due to changes in the job requirements, it became necessary for him to file a key license application with the Mississippi Gaming Commission. When his application was denied due to a failure to disclosure pertinent information, Galle was removed from this position.
Failure to obtain a key license did not prohibit Galle from working in other, non-managerial positions in the poker room. As a result, he was demoted to the position of Poker Room Supervisor. Isle of Capri eventually ordered new name tags, ID badges, and business cards for its employees. Due to an error, Galle’s new name tag incorrectly identified him as the Poker Room Manager.
In 2011, the Gaming Commission determined Galle was still acting as the Poker Room Manager and demanded Isle of Capri remove him from this position. Isle of Capri conducted its own investigation and determined Galle had been wearing an incorrect ID badge and had verbally identified himself to a gaming investigator as the Poker Room Manager. In light of this information, Galle was terminated. Galle was, at all relevant times, an at-will employee.
In the amicus brief prepared by Timothy W. Lindsay of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., the MDLA argued, pursuant to established Mississippi law, (1) an employer may not be held liable for wrongful discharge where an employee reports conduct that is not “criminally” illegal and (2) an employer may not be held liable for wrongful discharge where an employee has participated in the conduct he or she reports.
On July 2, 2015, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals. In so doing, the Court adopted the second argument advanced by the MDLA, finding “Galle’s willing participation in illegal activity, which he failed to report before the Gaming Commission discovered it, bars him from bringing a McArn wrongful-discharge claim.” In its opinion, the Court noted the MDLA amicus brief.
The Mississippi Supreme Court’s recognition that the McArn public-policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine does not apply if the plaintiff has participated in the alleged wrongdoing is a big victory for Mississippi employers. The MDLA would like to thank those members who brought this issue to our attention and Tim Lindsay for his assistance in preparing the amicus brief. We encourage all our members to alert us to any issues that could benefit from the MDLA’s perspective and our unified voice. Please contact Lucky Tucker, MDLA Amicus Committee Chair, at [email protected]