The Law Office of Kurt H King

June 6, 2012

Wrongful Discharge of Organ Donor Employee

The recent Missouri appellate decision in Phyllis Delaney v. Signature Health Care Foundation, Opinion ED97419 filed May 22, 2012, handed down by Eastern District of Court of Appeals, sheds additional light on Missouri’s prohibition against firing employees contrary to public policy.  In this case, the employee asked for four weeks after surgery to donate a kidney to her brother.  The employer first gave the employee the green light, then said “no” three days before the surgery.  The employer refused to hold the employee’s position open and discharged the employee.

Ironically, the employer calls itself a health care foundation.  A foundation is often a body formed to serve charitable interests.  One would think a foundation of the health care variety would support its employee in being an organ donor, but apparently not so here.  Have to wonder!

The sole point on appeal is whether in donating a kidney the employee acted in a manner public policy would encourage.  The relatively obvious answer is “yes,” donating a kidney is something the public policy of the State of Missouri encourages.   The court of appeals therefore sent the case back down to the lower trial court so the employee may continue her case for wrongful discharge against the foundation that wrongfully discharged her from her job as a data entry clerk.

In its opinion, the court of appeals kindly listed these four categories of public policy exceptions to Missouri’s general rule that an employer may fire its at-will employees with or without cause: (1) refusing to perform an illegal act or an act contrary to strong public policy mandate; (2) reporting the employer or fellow employees to third parties for violations of law or public policy; (3) acting in a manner public policy would encourage; or, (4) filing a claim for workers’ compensation.  The third exception applied in this case and therefore the employer could not fire the employee for not being at work due to donating a kidney, an act encouraged by various Missouri laws discussed in the court’s opinion.

Kurt H. King

Law Office of Kurt H. King, 20 E. Franklin, Liberty, Clay County, Missouri 64068


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