The Maryland Court of Appeals turned down an employee seeking damages after her employer terminated her. Debra Parks, a sales representative for a pharmaceutical firm, contended that she was fired in retaliation for her complaints about the company’s illegal marketing activities about a new pain drug, including the company’s alleged failure to tell the Food and Drug Administration of the results of a study. The complaint was dismissed before any discovery or trial. The court held that the employee could not bring a wrongful termination claim because she did not identify any clearly defined mandate of public policy that her termination violated.
The Court of Appeals explained again that wrongful termination is rarely a successful claim. It often comes up where an employee is put between the legal rock and hard place: when she has to choose between violating the law and keeping her job. So, when an employee was fired for reporting child abuse, and she was under a legal duty to report the abuse, that was wrongful termination. When an employee refused the property manager’s directive to trespass in leased apartments and snoop through their private papers, her termination was wrongful; another who refused to have sexual intercourse with an employee was protected; to have sex to keep her job was tantamount to engaging in prostitution.
Contrary to what many employees believe, or feel should be the case, whistleblowing on corporate wrongdoing is usually not a protected activity. Unless the employee reports criminal activity to the appropriate authorities, and is fired for that report, the firing goes unredressed.
The allegations brought by Debra Parks had plenty of support. In fact, Ms. Parks also notified the United States government of violations of federal law involving the same drug, and shared in a $85,000,000 payment made by the company to settle the claims with the federal government and some state Medicaid programs. The dismissal of her wrongful termination claim had to do with the lack of a crystal clear public policy protecting the employee, rather than whether the employer was doing the right thing.