Nevada Litigation Blog

No New Exception To Employment At-Will Doctrine

Written by: Edgar Carranza

“No New Exception To Employment At-Will Doctrine For An Employee Terminated For Attempting To Organize Fellow Employees”

The Nevada Supreme Court declined to recognize a new exception to the employment at-will doctrine in Ozawa v. Vision Airlines, Inc., 125 Nev. Adv. Op. 43 (Oct. 1, 2009). The simple identification of a public policy does not, by itself, create a recognizable exception to the general employment at-will doctrine in Nevada.

Leland Ozawa was employed as a pilot for Vision Airlines. While he had been offered an opportunity to sign an employment agreement with Vision, he declined to do so and instead he chose part-time, at-will employment. During his employment, some of the pilots at the company became disgruntled over a requirement to attend training for which they would receive no compensation. Ozawa took a leadership role in preparing a responsive petition requesting additional compensation for attending any training. Shortly thereafter, Ozawa was asked by Vision Airlines director of human resources to bring his pilot manuals, company identification to the office. Although there was some dispute about how Ozawa stopped working at Vision Airlines, he did stop working there which gave rise to his claim of tortious discharge.

Ozawa argued that the discharging an employee for organizing co-workers to collectively seek an increase in compensation violated Nevada public policy and thus should be considered an additional exception to the general employment at-will doctrine. He pointed to various statutes, including NRS 613.220, NRS 614.090 and the National Labor Relations Act, for support. He went on to argue that failing to protect the Nevada public policy will have a chilling effect on Nevada employees who might seek collectively to better their compensation or working conditions.

Vision Airlines argued, and the Supreme Court agreed, that the exceptions should not be treated lightly. While true, that the high court had recognized exceptions to the doctrine over the years, the exceptions have been “severely limited to those rare and exceptional cases where the employer’s conduct violates strong and compelling public policy.” Sands Regent v. Valgardson, 105 Nev. 436, 440, 777 P.2d 898, 900 (1989) (declining to create and additional exception to the at-will employment doctrine for age discrimination). The mere identification of a public policy is not the entire analysis. D’Angelo v. Gardner, 107 Nev. 704, 719-20, 819 P. 2d 206, 216-17 (1991). The Supreme Court also discussed that it would not act to create a new exception for tortious discharge when plaintiff has an adequate, comprehensive and statutory remedy. Because Ozawa failed to avail himself of the remedy available, the Supreme Court declined to create a new exception to the at-will doctrine.

Thus, the Nevada Supreme Court affirmed its employment at-will doctrine and again echoed prior holdings that it will not easily allow parties to chip away at it in order to create exceptions. If an employee has a full remedy available to him, he should take advantage of the remedy rather than to try to cobble a new exception to the general doctrine.

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