Tatge v. Chambers & Owen, Inc

In Tatge v. Chambers & Owen, Inc., 219 Wis. 2d 99, 579 N.W.2d 217 (1998), Tatge, an "at-will" employee, had objected to the non-disclosure/non-compete provisions of a "management agreement" that modified his job duties and compensation arrangements. See Tatge, 219 Wis. 2d at 102-03. He refused to sign the agreement only after being assured that his refusal would not affect his employment. See 219 Wis. 2d at 103. Ultimately, however, he was fired for refusing to sign. See id. He brought several claims against his employer and, in a jury trial, prevailed on his tort claim of negligent misrepresentation. See 219 Wis. 2d at 104-105. On post-verdict motions, however, the trial court dismissed his claim. See 219 Wis. 2d at 105. Tatge appealed, challenging not only the dismissal of the negligent misrepresentation claim, but also the trial court's dismissal, on summary judgment, of his wrongful discharge claim. See 219 Wis. 2d at 101, 105. The Court affirmed, concluding that "a breach of an employment contract is not actionable in tort." 219 Wis. 2d at 105. Appealing the decision, Tatge contended that the supreme court should "address his misrepresentation claim under tort law-not as a wrongful discharge or breach of contract claim under contract law." 219 Wis. 2d at 107. As the supreme court explained, Tatge "advocated this approach by arguing that employers have an independent duty to their employees to refrain from misrepresentation." Id. The supreme court, however, refused to take that approach. Rejecting Tatge's argument, the court declared, "We decline to give our blessing to such an irreverent marriage of tort and contract law." Id. The court reiterated that there "'must be a duty existing independently of the performance of the contract for a cause of action in tort to exist.'" Id.