Gantt v. Sentry Insurance
824 P.2d 680 (Cal.1992)
Gantt (sales manager) and a woman named Joyce Bruno (liaison) both worked for Sentry. After experiencing sexual harassment Bruno complained to Gantt, who then contacted HR as well as his supervisor. Nothing was done, so Gantt brought it up a second time.
- Bruno was eventually fired and then filed a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).
- Gantt gained the impression from Sentry’s house counsel that he was being pressured to retract his claim that he had reported the complaints.
- Thompson, a DFEH investigator also gained the impression that Gantt felt he was being pressured, and was extremely fearful of retaliation because of his unfavorable testimony.
- Gantt was later demoted from sales manager to sales rep.
- Gantt then took a job with another company and then filed this suit alleging that he was forced to resign as a result of the pressure applied by the Sentry, in violation of public policy.
The trial jury ruled in favor of Gantt.
Whether an employee who was terminated in retaliation for supporting a coworker’s claim of sexual harassment may state a cause of action for tortious discharge against public policy.
- Courts in wrongful discharge actions may not declare public policy without a basis in either the Constitution or statutory provisions.
- The court noted that the cases in which violations of public policy are found generally fall into four categories:
(1) Refusing to violate a statute / commit an illegal act – e.g., go dump this toxic waste in that playground.
(2) Performing a statutory obligation – e.g., jury duty.
(3) Exercising a statutory right or privilege – e.g., filing a worker’s compensation claim.
(4) Reporting an alleged violation of a statute of public importance – e.g., whistleblower cases.
- Here, the court pointed to a FEHA provision specifically enjoining obstruction of a FEHA investigation.
- Thus, Sentry’s retaliation for Gantt’s refusal to withhold information or to provide false information to the DFEH violated the public policy of the state.
- “Nowhere in our society is the need greater than in protecting well motivated employees who come forward to testify truthfully in an administrative investigation of charges of discrimination based on sexual harassment. It is self-evident that few employees would cooperate with such investigations if the price were retaliatory discharge from employment.”
Rule: Courts in wrongful discharge actions may not declare public policy without a basis in either the Constitution or statutory provisions.