The Oregon Supreme Court has denied a car salesman’s wrongful discharge claim. In Lamson v. Crater Lake Motors, Inc., the salesman, Kevin Lamson, claimed he was terminated for complaining to his employer that an outside entity managing sales on his employer’s car lot was engaging in unlawful trade practices. Lamson refused to participate in special promotional events run by the outside company, because he believed company was engaging in sales tactics that were unethical and unlawful.
As the Stoel Rives World of Employment has discussed earlier, wrongful discharge is a common law remedy. One way a plaintiff may assert the claim is by arguing that the employer terminated him for fulfilling an "important societal obligation." Oregon courts determine what obligations qualify by reviewing state statutes and the state constitution.
In this case, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that plaintiff would have had a wrongful discharge claim if he had been terminated for refusing to engage in illegal practices prohibited by Oregon’s Uniform Trade Practices Act.. However, the court determined that plaintiff’s evidence did not meet that burden. Plaintiff had not complained that he was being forced to act illegally; he had complained only that the outside company was acting illegally and urged his employer not to do business with that company. The court also held that plaintiff would have had a viable claim if he had been terminated for reporting the outside company’s illegal practices to a government agency that could have taken legal action about the outside company. Reporting the allegedly illegal practices to his employer, the court ruled, was insufficient to trigger the common-law remedy.
Lamson does not signal an entirely new direction in the law of wrongful discharge; employers have known for some time that they may be held liable for terminating employees for performing public duties such as jury service or even arresting lawbreakers. However, Lamson is a valuable precedent for employers because it shows that Oregon courts are not willing to extend a wrongful discharge remedy for every act that a discharged employee can relate (however tangentially) to an Oregon statute. Plaintiffs asserting wrongful discharge must show how their complaint directly relates to the furtherance of a public policy