A lawyer is the plaintiff in a new COVID-19 wrongful discharge lawsuit

I’m glad that you folks enjoyed yesterday’s recipe post.

I got a lot of positive feedback, especially on the beer bread. That doesn’t really shock me, given the state of play right now. But, I’m not judging.

Unfortunately, if this were a full-time cooking blog, I’d be left sharing insights into tuna fish sandwiches, grilled cheese (use mayo to get a nice golden brown crust – trust me), and scrambled eggs. So, it’s back to COVID-19 for the foreseeable future.

Facebook Live today at 2 PM EDT / 11 AM PDT with Special Guest Jon Hyman.

Don’t forget to click over to The Employer Handbook Facebook Page at 2 PM EDT / 11 AM PDT. My buddy Jon Hyman, an employment lawyer and publisher of the Ohio Employer Law Blog, will join me to discuss the last 30 days of FFCRA, as well as recently updated federal COVID-19 guidance. We’ll also peer into our crystal ball to facilitate your return to work (and avoid those pesky lawsuits). Plus, we’ll do some Q&A.

If you have any hypothetical questions that you’d like to ask for a friend and that we can answer without providing legal advice or creating an attorney-client privilege, go ahead and do so by clicking here.

Speaking of COVID-19 lawsuits, did you hear the one about the lawyer-plaintiff?

Check this out.

Philip Bekin at Corporate Counsel (part of Law.com) reports here about a doozy of a lawsuit that the former general counsel of a Texas business has asserted against her former employer:

The former general counsel of a commercial real estate development firm near Dallas has filed a lawsuit that paints her ex-boss as an uncaring scrooge who fired her for declining to violate a local stay-at-home order by reporting to work during the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. 

[The Plaintiff] alleges in a wrongful termination suit filed Thursday in Dallas County that [the] sole manager and president of [the company], “repeatedly refused” to let her work from home and was “belligerent and annoyed” that she’d even asked. 

“Unfortunately, although employees want to abide by the legal restrictions and protect the health of their families and communities, some employers are flouting the restrictions and threatening (whether implicitly or explicitly) with termination unless they agree to violate the law with criminal consequences,” the suit states. 

Here is a copy of the lawsuit.

WOW! I mean, until now, I didn’t think that Texas had any employment laws. Ok, I’m kidding. Actually, I did have to do a little research into the type of wrongful discharge claim that the plaintiff asserted here. It’s called a “Sabine Pilot” claim, which is unique to Texas. It comes from this 1985 case called Sabine Pilot Service, Inc. v. Hauck. The Texas Supreme Court concluded in Sabine Pilot that there is a narrow exception to the at-will employment doctrine. That is, an employer cannot fire someone because s/he refuses to perform an illegal act.

In the general counsel’s lawsuit, she alleges that she was subject to a stay-at-home order in Dallas. However, the defendant, which operated a non-essential business in another county, was forcing her to come to the office. The plaintiff claims that the defendant fired her for refusing to violate the stay-at-home order.

We’ll see how this one plays out. But, I suspect that we’ll see more of these types of wrongful discharge/whistleblower lawsuits across the country.

For now, strongly consider involving an outside employment lawyer before taking any type of significant adverse employment action against a current employee — especially your in-house counsel.

See you at 2 pm!

“Doing What’s Right – Not Just What’s Legal”
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