Tuesday, March 16, 2010, 7:53 PM

Wrongful Termination Does Not Give Rise to a UDTP Claim

In Combs v. City Electric Supply Company, the North Carolina Court of Appeals determined, among other things, that an employee's claim that he was wrongfully terminated did not give rise to a claim against his former employer under North Carolina's Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

David Combs filed a complaint in Forsyth County Superior Court alleging that his former employer, City Electric Supply Company, terminated him "in retaliation for reporting that 'Defendant [was] stealing from its customers' accounts[.]" Combs' complaint contained three causes of action: wrongful discharge, tortious interference with Combs' contractual rights, and unfair and deceptive trade practices. At the close of plaintiff's evidence Judge Franklin F. Lanier granted the Defendants' Motion for a Directed Verdict and entered a judgment in favor of defendants.

In an opinion written by Judge Steelman and joined by Judges Robert C. Hunter and Geer, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's decision to grant a directed verdict on the wrongful discharge and tortious interference claims because Combs presented "more than a scintilla of evidence" in support of each element of these claims.

However, the Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's decision to grant a directed verdict on the UDTP claim because the employment dispute between Combs and City Electric did not include "any conduct that would constitute activity 'affecting commerce[.]'" According to the Court of Appeals, a whistle blower claim is nothing more than "a simple employment dispute and does not fall within the perview of" the UDTP statute.

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