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Graham v. Albertson’s

Graham v. Albertson’s, 2020 UT 15 (Pearce, J.)

Employment

An employee filed a complaint with the Utah Occupational Safety and Health Division alleging that his termination violated the Utah Occupational Safety and Health Act (UOSHA) because the employer terminated him for filing a UOSHA complaint. While his claim was proceeding in the Division, he filed a complaint in district court alleging wrongful termination in violation of public policy. The district court dismissed his complaint because it concluded that UOSHA preempted his common law wrongful termination claim. The Supreme Court reversed, holding:

  • UOSHA does not preempt a common-law cause of action for wrongful termination. UOSHA does not reflect a clear legislative intent to preempt common law remedies. Section 34A-6-110(1) broadly instructs that UOSHA “does not limit or repeal requirements imposed by statute or otherwise recognized by law.” The employee’s claim of wrongful termination in violation of public policy falls into the category of a requirement “otherwise recognized by law.”
  • The statutory-preemption Retherford test skips a step. The correct test is three parts: First, a court must decide whether there was a valid claim at common law. Second, a court must decide whether a statute reveals either an express or implicit legislative intent to preempt common law causes of action. And third, if the statute reveals an intent to preempt, the court must decide whether the common law claim falls within the scope of what the Legislature intended the statute to preempt. 
  • Takeaway: In a footnote, the Court discusses the burden of proof in employment-statute preemption cases: The plaintiff carries the burden of establishing a “clear and substantial” policy in positive law sufficient to overcome the common law presumption of at-will employment; if the plaintiff can show that he possesses a basis in law to adjust the default and assert that he was wrongfully terminated in violation of public policy, the burden then shifts to the defendant to demonstrate that the Legislature intended the statute to preempt the common law remedy.

Read the full court opinion

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