|Opinion:||Booth v. Home Depot, 2022 OK 16|
|Subject matter:||Employment Law|
|Date Decided:||February 15, 2022|
|Route to this Court:||Certified Question from U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit|
|Facts:||Booth worked as an installation service manager for Home Depot. He believed that a customer was being charged for window wraps that were not needed and reported this to his supervisor. Booth claims that the supervisor ignored Booth’s concerns and the next day initiated an investigation into Booth’s actions in an unrelated matter. Home Depot fired Booth based on the investigation, which Booth claims was only a pretext to fire Booth for his reporting that Home Depot was overcharging customers. In his amended federal complaint, Booth claims that overcharging of customers violated the Oklahoma Home Repair Fraud Act, 15 O.S. 765.3 (OHRFA) and/or the Oklahoma Consumer Protection Act, 15 O.S. 753(15), (20) (OCPA). Home Depot argued that a violation of these statutes does not support a Burk tort for wrongful termination and moved to dismiss the petition for failure to state a claim. The federal district court agreed and dismissed Booth’s case. Booth appealed to the Tenth Circuit, which then certified the question about the statutes to this Court.|
|Standard of Review:||N/A. The Court’s examination of certified questions is confined to resolving questions of law.|
|Analysis:||Oklahoma has long recognized the employment-at-will doctrine. An employer can discharge an employee for good cause, no cause, or even for a morally wrong cause. In Burk v. Siloam Springs Hotel, 2017 OK 14, this Court held that at-will contracts may be limited by the public policy of the State of Oklahoma, thus creating so-called “Burk” torts for wrongful termination of an at-will employee. To qualify for a public policy exception under Burk, several elements must be proven, to wit: (1) an actual or constructive discharge (2) of an at-will employee (3) in significant part for a reason that violates an Oklahoma public policy goal (4) that is found in Oklahoma’s constitution, statutory, or decisional law or in the federal constitutional provision that prescribes a norm of conduct for Oklahoma, and (5) no statutory remedy exists that is adequate to protect the Oklahoma policy goal. |
Neither the OCPA nor the HRFA identifies a clear and compelling public policy that creates an exception to the at-will doctrine. Absent an announcement written in the statute that “public policy” is the motivation behind the Legislature’s intent, the Burk exception is narrowly limited to only those matters which affect the welfare of the State as a whole (e.g., violations of public health, safety, and welfare). The OCPA and the OHRFA protect individuals who may encounter a fraudulent merchant, not Oklahoma citizens in general. In addition, the statutes provide specific remedies for persons harmed by violations of the Acts.
The Court will not expand Burk to include protection from economic harm,and without a clear mandate from the Legislature, the Acts do not qualify as an established public policy.
|Outcome:||Certified question answered.|
|Vote:||8-1CONCUR: Darby, C.J., Kane, V.C.J., Winchester, Edmonson, Combs, Gurich, Rowe, and Kuehn, JJ (author).CONCUR IN PART AND DISSENT IN PART: Kauger, J.|
|Other:||No separate writing.|