Firing of employee who requested time off for organ transplant violated the public policy exception to the at-will-employment doctrine

The old adage that bad facts make bad law was turned on its head in Delaney v. Signature Health Care. Delaney was a data entry clerk who learned that her brother was diagnosed with kidney failure and required a kidney transplant to survive.Helping another Delaney underwent testing to determine if she was a viable donor candidate.

After being informed that she would be an appropriate donor, Delaney volunteered to donate a kidney to her brother. Delaney informed Employer of her decision, and told Employer that she would be required to be out of work for four weeks following the surgery. After initially approving the request, Employer notified Delaney three days before the scheduled surgery that it could not hold open her position during her four-week recovery.

Employer then discharged Delaney who sued Employer alleging she was wrongfully discharged in violation of the public policy exception to the at-will-employment doctrine. Delaney appealed to the Eastern District, which reversed holding that Missouri has a public policy of encouraging organ donor transplants based on Missouri statutes, thereby making the firing of Delaney an exception to the at- will-employment doctrine. In this case the court cobbled together several statutes to find a public policy to encourage organ transplant donations. 

If you are involved in a case where the public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine is an issue this case is has a very good summary of the current status of the law.     This case shows that the court was willing to stretch existing law by expanding the public policy exception based on the harshness of the Employers decision. The fact that there was no existing public policy exception for organ transplant donors did not deter the court from creating new law since the decision made by the Employer seemed so unfair.  Sometimes bad facts make good law.

Howard Wright @ 2013

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