case brief (Brown v. Hammond) - ? Brown v. Hammond, 810 F.Supp (E.D. Pa. 1993) FACTS: Cynthia Brown
Post on 13-Jul-2018
Brown v. Hammond, 810 F.Supp (E.D. Pa. 1993) FACTS: Cynthia Brown is a former employee of the Defendant and his law firm. She was employed by Robert M. Hammond & Associates from November 4, 1990 to April 4, 1991. She was employed by the Defendants as an at-will paralegal and secretary. The time Ms. Brown spent on client matters was billed to the clients as attorney time without any kind of forewarning to the firms clients that the work was being performed by someone who was not an attorney. Despite Ms. Browns protests that the practice was improper, her supervisors still directed her to bill her time as attorney time. Therefore, Ms. Brown then took it upon herself to inform various authorities and affected clients of the improper practice while not laying claim to any responsibility for overseeing the firms billing practices. In doing so, the Defendants responded by imposing new work rules with respect to hours of employment which only applied to and discriminated against Ms. Brown, who was subsequently terminated for her actions. ISSUES: Whether Ms. Brown terminated in violation of public policy for reporting the improper actions of the Defendants, whether Ms. Brown was terminated in violation of public policy for protesting against performing such improper actions, and whether the Defendants actions were calculated and intentional enough to purposely cause Ms. Brown harm and result in a prima facie tort. HOLDING: The Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct, as adopted by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, could very well provide the basis for a public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine. REASONING: Under Pennsylvania law, either party may terminate an employment relationship for any or no reason unless a statutory or contractual provision to the contrary exists. Pennsylvania law (Whistleblower Law, 43 Pa. C.S.A. 1421 et seq.) protects Ms. Brown for reporting impropriety to outside authorities. However, it does not allow her to directly voice the impropriety to the firms clients. Therefore, termination for gratuitously alerting others about the Defendants' improper billing practice does not violate the type of significant, clearly mandated public policy required to satisfy the very narrow exception to Pennsylvania's rigid at-will employment doctrine. Furthermore, assuming that a specific intent to harm exception even existed, such intent cannot be established by the harm normally occasioned by the act of discharging an employee and such exception, if truly existed, would only exist in cases of purely malevolent conduct. In other words, it would have to be a termination for which no reason existed other than to cause "an atavistic desire to hurt another" (Id. at 57, 508 A.2d 1263). Despite the fact Ms. Browns whistleblowing conduct was well motivated, the Defendants' reason for discharging Ms. Brown was due to conduct of her own making and for conducts which threatened to deprive the Defendants of clients and subject them to sanctions. However, given no employee should be forced to choose between his or her livelihood and engaging in fraud or other criminal conduct to the extent that Ms. Brown alleges, her action may proceed.
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