Sep 27

Wrongful Termination Jury Verdict Upheld


Employee’s wrongful firing upheld

In an Oklahoma case that resulted in a $150,000 jury verdict, the Oklahoma Supreme Court agreed on September 24, 2013, with the jury verdict that a firefighter had been wrongfully terminated after complaining about his supervisor’s conduct. The Plaintiff, Steven King, was a paid firefighter for the Berryhill Fire Protection District in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and worked under the supervision of Fire Chief Downing. Chief Downing wanted to remove structures from real property he owned and had received an estimate for the demolition of structures on his property in the amount of $10,000. Rather than paying to have the structures demolished, Chief Downing began planning a live burn training exercise on the property even though gasoline tank batteries were located on nearby property on three sides of his property, trains operated on tracks on the immediate east side of his property, electrical lines were near the structures, and there was a large tree that could have caught fire.

There was no water immediately available at the proposed burn site. At trial, witnesses for both parties testified that the property was not an appropriate site for such a drill. After learning about the Chief’s plan to conduct a live burn on his property, and believing the planned exercise would constitute arson, King reported his concerns to Chief Downing and others in the department. King also reported the matter to a Tulsa Fire Department employee. After the Tulsa Fire Department contacted the Berryhill Fire Department about the live burn, the exercise was cancelled. King was later terminated from his employment with the Berryhill Fire Department. Believing his termination was in retaliation for his efforts to stop the live burn exercise, King sued the Berryhill Fire Department for retaliatory discharge. After hearing conflicting evidence from both sides and evaluating the credibility of the witnesses, the jury agreed with King and found King’s protest of the planned burn exercise resulted in his wrongful termination from employment in violation of the public policy of this state and awarded King $150,000.  The Oklahoma Supreme Court affirmed the jury’s award.

How this verdict relates to Montana wrongful discharge claims

The situation in Oklahoma is not unique.  I frequently hear from Montana employees who have been terminated after bringing concerns to their superiors.  It is a difficult situation for the employee to be in — report the conduct and risk a job, or do what they believe is the right thing to do in the face of retaliation.  Keep in mind, whistleblowers are protected from retaliation in Montana.  The McGrady Law Firm represents Montana employees who have been wrongfully fired or terminated from their jobs, regardless of where they are located in the state, including Eastern Montana wrongful terminations and Great Falls wrongful terminations.

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