Tuesday, July 15, 2008, 9:24 PM

COA Applies Heightened Pleading Standard To Wrongful Discharge Case

Today in Gillis v. Montgomery County Sheriff's Dept., a wrongful discharge case, the Court of Appeals (COA) held that if a plaintiff relies on the public-policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine, the complaint must plead that exception with particularity. If it doesn't, it will be dismissed.

When an employee has no definite term of employment, he is an employee at will and may be discharged without reason. This is known as the at-will employment doctrine. An exception to the doctrine exists if the employee was terminated for reasons that would violate the public policy of this State. This is known as the public-policy exception. Today the COA held that to claim this exception it's not good enough for the plaintiff to plead generically that she was wrongfully terminated for reasons that are "against the public policy of North Carolina." Such generic pleading won't put the defendant on notice of what public policy is violated. To survive dismissal the complaint must identify an explicit statutory or constitutional provision that the defendant violated or a law that the defendant encouraged the plaintiff to violate.

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