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A Better Partnership
June 05, 2014

COA sustains wrongful termination claim where plaintiff alleged he was terminated for reporting medical malpractice

In Landin v. Healthsource Saginaw, Inc., the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision to deny the defendant’s motions for summary disposition on a wrongful termination claim made by a former employee. The plaintiff filed a complaint against the defendant, his former employer, for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, arguing that he was terminated for reporting the negligence of a co-worker. In response, the defendant moved for summary disposition, and the trial court denied the motion.  Specifically, the Court affirmed the trial court's conclusion that Michigan law allowed a cause of action for wrongful termination under MCL 333.20176a(1)(a) of the Public Health Code, which prohibits discharge of an employee that reports malpractice or violation of the Public Health Code by a health professional. 
On appeal, the defendant first argued that the trial court committed reversible error in failing to provide a complete analysis of the law and policy regarding the motions for summary disposition. The Court noted that although employment relationships are generally terminable at will, in Suchodolski v. Michigan Consolidated Gas Co., 412 Mich. 692 (1982), the Michigan Supreme Court held that three grounds exist for finding that the termination of an at-will employee violates public policy: (1) explicit legislative actions that prohibit discharge of employees who act in accordance with a statutory right or duty, (2) when the reason for discharge is based on the employee’s refusal to violate law, and (3) when the reason for discharge is based on the employee’s exercise of a right by legislative enactment. Relying on Suchodolski, the Court of Appeals explained that the trial court’s reliance on MCL 333.20176a(1)(a) likely fell within the first ground for finding that termination violates public policy based on the Whistleblowers' Protection Act ("WPA") and the Michigan Civil Rights Acts. The Court also noted that reliance on this statute could fall within the third ground based on the underlying purpose of MCL 333.20176a(1)(a), which is to promote the safety and health of Michigan citizens. Accordingly, the trial court committed no error.
The Court also rejected the defendant’s argument that the WPA was the exclusive remedy for the plaintiff’s claim. Because the plaintiff’s claim was not based on a violation of the Public Health Code but rather on alleged malpractice, the plaintiff’s claim did not fall squarely within the WPA. Thus, the defendant was not entitled to summary disposition on this basis. Additionally, the Court disagreed with the defendant’s claim that the trial court erred in concluding that genuine issues of material fact existed regarding the cause of the plaintiff’s termination. Instead, the Court noted that both the plaintiff and defendant had presented evidence regarding plaintiff’s alleged falsification of medical documents in violation of the medication policy, and thus, the issue had been properly presented to the jury. Moreover, the Court also disagreed that the trial court erred in denying the defendant’s motion to compel plaintiff to return confidential non-party medical records that he received without authorization. Although the plaintiff had admitted to taking these records, the Court explained that the defendant’s other employees had also copied these records and had “inadvertently” produced them in discovery. Further, because the cause of the plaintiff’s termination was at issue, these records were necessary to establish whether the plaintiff had falsified these documents.
The Court also addressed the defendant’s arguments concerning damages and evidentiary issues, holding that the issues involving damages were properly left to the jury and no abuse of discretion was found. In regard to the evidentiary issues, the Court affirmed the trial court’s decisions regarding the relevance of several pieces of evidence. Finally, the Court explained that the trial court did not err in denying the defendant’s motions for directed verdict and judgment notwithstanding the verdict, new trial, or remittitur because no error had been committed by the trial court, remittitur had been properly left to the jury, and the trial court was in the best position to determine whether the jury’s verdict was proper based on the evidence presented. 

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