Sheets v. Teddy's Frosted Foods, Inc

In Sheets v. Teddy's Frosted Foods, Inc., 179 Conn. 471, 427 A.2d 385 (1980), the plaintiff was a quality control director and operations manager. During the course of his employment, the plaintiff noticed certain deviations from specifications on the defendant's product labels. Those deviations violated statutory provisions, and the plaintiff notified his employer of the mislabeling of products. The defendant terminated the plaintiff several months later. The plaintiff alleged that his dismissal violated an implied contract of employment, violated public policy and was malicious. Id., 473-74. Our Supreme Court addressed "whether to recognize an exception to the traditional rules governing employment at will so as to permit a cause of action for wrongful discharge where the discharge contravenes a clear mandate of public policy." Id., 474. The court found it significant that the plaintiff in Sheets had responsibility for product quality control. Id., 479. Moreover, the legislature had established a public policy of consumer protection. Id. The court did not rest the decision on the violation of a statute governing public policy, stating: "We need not decide whether violation of a state statute is invariably a prerequisite to the conclusion that a challenged discharge violates public policy. Certainly when there is a relevant state statute we should not ignore the statement of public policy that it represents." Id., 480. Even in the absence of a state statute, there is a growing receptivity to recognize as actionable tort claims for wrongful discharge by an employer arising out of termination for an employee's refusal to commit perjury, for filing a workers' compensation claim, for engaging in union activity or for serving on a jury. Id., 476-77. The court determined that a cause of action for wrongful discharge will lie when the former employee can demonstrate an improper reason for the discharge, "a reason whose impropriety is derived from some important violation of public policy." Id., 475. Sheets warns, however, that courts should proceed cautiously in their consideration of whether a public policy violation exists. Id., 477.