The Missouri Supreme Court on June 27, 2017, ruled in favor of an employer in a case alleging a contractor with the employer was entitled to whistleblower protections in the same manner as employees. Associated Industries of Missouri and the Missouri Business Legal Center filed an amicus brief in support of the employer in the case and are pleased with the decision.
The plaintiff, Bishop and Associates, was a contractor with the defendant, Ameren Corporation. Bishop brought a claim against Ameren alleging “wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, defamation, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and tortious interference with a business expectancy.” The suit arose after Ameren terminated its relationship with Bishop and Associates, which provided commercial plumbing services at several of Ameren’s facilities. Bishop claimed “independent contractors have a cause of action for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy,” among other charges. Ameren, and AIM in the amicus, argued whistleblower and other statutes protecting employees do not apply to independent contractors, especially those that are not “contract employees.” There was no employer-employee relationship in this case, only an independent plumbing services contract with an independent contractor.
The Court provided a clear line of distinction in this case. “Missouri courts have always described the public policy exception as a narrow exception to the at-will employment doctrine. And although this Court expanded the exception to contract employees alleging wrongful discharge, this Court has never applied the public policy exception outside the context of an employer-employee relationship. This is consistent with most jurisdictions that have addressed whether independent contractors have a cause of action for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy and is supported by the fact that independent contractors are not as susceptible to coercion as at-will or contract employees…Furthermore, despite B&A’s claims to the contrary, Missouri case law does not support a breach of contract claim for wrongful termination in violation of public policy,” the Court wrote in the decision.
This is a clear victory for Missouri companies and we applaud the court’s decision.