Bammert v. Don’s Super Valu, Inc
646 N.W.2d 365 (Wis. 2002).

Facts:
Bammert worked at Don’s for 26 years. She was fired when her husband, a police officer, arrested Don’s wife for drunk driving. Bammert sued for wrongful discharge.

History:

  • The circuit court dismissed the complaint (Bammert was an at-will employee).
  • The court of appeals affirmed.

Issue:
Whether the public policy exception to the employment-at-will doctrine can be extended to a retaliatory discharge based upon the conduct of a non-employee spouse.

Holding:
No. Affirmed.

Reasoning:
The public policy exception to the employment-at-will doctrine holds that an at-will employee can sue for wrongful discharge “when the discharge is contrary to a fundamental and well-defined public policy as evidenced by existing law,” or, “clearly contravenes the public welfare and gravely violates paramount requirements of public interest.”

  • Thus, a plaintiff must:

(1) Identify a constitutional, statutory, or administrative provision that clearly articulate a fundamental and well-defined public policy.
(2) Demonstrate that the termination violated public policy.

  • The burden would then shift to the employer to show just cause for the termination.

Here, Bammert identified two Wisconsin statutes:

(1) Prohibition against drunk driving.

  • The court held that Bammert was not fired for her participation in the arrest; she was fired for her husband’s.
    • Basically, the exception can’t be stretched this far: “Once expanded in the manner argued here, the public policy exception would no longer be subject to any discernable limiting principles. It would arguably apply to retaliatory discharges based upon the conduct of any non-employee relative.”
      • I.e., a slippery slope.

(2) Public policy favoring the stability of marriage.

  • The court held that this is an extremely narrow exception.

Dissent:

  • An individual will be able to influence a police officer in the form of a retaliatory firing – a no-win position for the officer.
  • The employer could not directly reach the person that he wished to retaliate against. But here, the employer could get to him by firing his wife.

Rule: The public policy exception to the employment-at-will doctrine does not extend to discharges in retaliation for the conduct of the non-employee spouse.