Danny v. Laidlaw Transit Servs., Inc.

While she was working at Laidlaw, plaintiff and her five children experienced ongoing domestic violence at the hands of her husband. Plaintiff requested time off to remove herself and her children from the abusive situation, was refused, and was subsequently given paid time off for 15 days, in which she availed of police, legal, and advocacy assistance. Shortly after returning to work, defendant first demoted plaintiff and subsequently terminated plaintiff’s employment stating as a reason falsification of payroll records. Plaintiff filed her complaint against defendant, alleging that Laidlaw terminated her employment in violation of public policy and Washington's Law Against Discrimination, RCW 49.60. Absent a contract to the contrary, Washington employees are generally terminable “at will,” with a narrow exception for the common law tort of wrongful discharge, which applies when an employer terminates an employee for reasons that contravene a clearly mandated public policy. As one element of this tort, the plaintiff needed to establish “the existence of a clear public policy (the clarity element).” The Supreme Court of Washington reformulated the certified question from the District Court as follows: Has Washington established a clear mandate of public policy of protecting domestic violence survivors and their families and holding their abusers accountable? The Supreme Court of Washington answered the question in the affirmative, holding that plaintiff had satisfied the “clarity” element of wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, because Washington unequivocally established, through legislative, judicial, constitutional, and executive expressions, a clear mandate of public policy of protecting domestic violence survivor and their families and holding abusers accountable. On remand, the Supreme Court of Washington instructed the District Court to determine whether employee satisfied the jeopardy element of the tort by showing that the time she took off from work was the only available adequate means to prevent domestic violence against herself or her children by evaluating the nature of the danger, the particular actions she undertook, and the details of her work schedule.



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