Tameny Claim (California)

The seminal case of Tameny v. Atlantic Richfield Co. (1980) 27 Cal.3d 167, recognized a cause of action in tort where an employee is wrongfully discharged in contravention of fundamental public policy. Subsequent case law had held adverse employment action short of a termination may give rise to a Tameny claim. In Garcia v. Rockwell Internat. Corp. (1986) 187 Cal. App. 3d 1556, the employee brought a Tameny claim, alleging he was wrongfully suspended without pay and demoted in retaliation for revealing his employer's misconduct to NASA's inspector general. ( Id., at pp. 1558, 1560.) The employer moved for summary judgment, contending a tort claim did not lie because a Tameny cause of action arises only after a retaliatory firing or termination of employment. ( Id., at p. 1560.) The trial court granted the employer's motion. ( Id., at p. 1558.) The reviewing court reversed. It observed: "The employer claims application of the Tameny rationale to a claim of retaliatory disciplinary action, falling short of an actual discharge, presents a case of first impression in California, and that appears to be correct. Neither counsel's nor our independent research has revealed a case involving a suspension without pay or other disciplinary action, other than discharge. However, we see no reason why the rationale of Tameny, supra, 27 Cal.3d 167 should not be applicable in a case where an employee is wrongfully (tortiously) disciplined and suffers damage as a result" ( Garcia, supra, 187 Cal. App. 3d at p. 1561), even though "the ultimate sanction of discharge has not been imposed." ( Id., at p. 1562.) In Daly v. Exxon Corp. (1997) 55 Cal.App.4th 39, the plaintiff contended she had pled a Tameny claim for wrongful termination in violation of public policy. The reviewing court rejected the argument on the ground the plaintiff was not fired, discharged, or terminated. ( Daly, supra, 55 Cal.App.4th at p. 45 .) "The contract was for a one-year term; it stated: 'Exxon shall have the option in its sole discretion of terminating this AGREEMENT without cause at any time by giving ten (10) days prior written notice thereof.' ... The employment contract was for a fixed term and expired May 1, 1992. Under a fixed-term contract, the 'employment is terminated by ... ... expiration of its appointed term.' (Lab. Code 2920, subd. (a).) Had Exxon fired, discharged, or terminated Daly before the contract expired because she complained about unsafe working conditions, she could have sued for wrongful discharge in addition to statutory damages. " ( Daly, supra, 55 Cal.App.4th at p. 45.) However, the plaintiff could not sue for tort damages where the employment contract was for a fixed term and expired. (Ibid.) Daly also noted the plaintiff's use of the term "wrongful termination" was a misnomer in that there was no termination, only a nonrenewal of the employment contract. ( Daly, supra, 55 Cal.App.4th at p. 45.) Daly further held the plaintiff was not entitled to leave to amend "to allege a new cause of action for what she labels 'tortious nonrenewal of an employment contract in violation of public policy.' 'We are unaware of any case, and plaintiff presents none, in which an employer was held liable in tort for refusing to renew an employment contract that had expired by its own terms.' " ( Id., at pp. 45-46.)