United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
C. COUGHENOUR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter comes before the Court on Defendants' motion for
judgment as a matter of law (Dkt. No. 97). Having thoroughly
considered the evidence and testimony presented at trial and
the parties' arguments, the Court GRANTS the motion for
the reasons explained herein.
Judgment as a Matter of Law Standard
trial, if the Court determines a party has not presented
sufficient evidence to allow a reasonable jury to find for it
on an issue, the Court may: “(A) resolve the issue
against the party; and (B) grant a motion for judgment as a
matter of law against the party on a claim or a defense that,
under the controlling law, can be maintained or defeated only
with a favorable finding on that issue.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
50(a). Judgment as a matter of law is proper when the
evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving
party, permits only one reasonable conclusion. See Berry
v. Bunnell, 39 F.3d 1056, 1057 (9th Cir. 1994).
Wrongful Termination in Violation of Public Policy
general rule, employees in Washington work at-will, meaning
they can be terminated for any reason that is not unlawful.
See Rose v. Anderson Hay & Grain Co., 358 P.3d
1139, 1141 (Wash. 2015). The tort of wrongful termination in
violation of public policy is a narrow exception to the
at-will doctrine. See, e.g., Villiarimo v. Aloha
Island Air, Inc., 281 F.3d 1054, 1063 (9th Cir. 2002);
White v. State, 929 P.2d 396, 408 (Wash. 1997).
Washington courts have recognized that the tort applies to
situations where an employee is fired in retaliation for
reporting employer misconduct, i.e. whistleblowing.
See, e.g., Gardner v. Loomis Armored Inc.,
913 P.2d 377, 384 (Wash. 1996).
financial misconduct is the subject of a whistleblowing
claim, courts have held that employees must demonstrate their
employer committed an actual violation of law or violated the
purpose of the law. Ellis v. City of Seattle, 13
P.3d 1065, 1070 (2000), as amended (Jan. 8, 2001)
(citing cases). In addition, an employee must show that she
acted “to further the public good, and not merely
private or proprietary interests.” Farnam v. CRISTA
Ministries, 807 P.2d 830, 835 (Wash. 1991) (citation
omitted). Finally, the employee must show that her
whistleblowing was a “substantial factor” in the
employer's termination decision. Rickman v. Premera
Blue Cross, 358 P.3d 1153, 1160 (2015), as
amended (Nov. 23, 2015) (citation omitted).
Bailey's Evidence of Whistleblowing
has not provided sufficient evidence to allow a reasonable
jury to find that the Defendants terminated her in violation
of public policy. First, Bailey did not present evidence that
her act of reporting excessive price margins was a violation
of the letter or policy of federal tax laws. Second, the
evidence does not support a finding that Bailey sought to
further the public good by reporting the price information to
the Defendants. Third, Bailey did not provide sufficient
evidence that her conduct was a substantial factor in the
Defendants' decision to terminate her.
testified that she was instructed by Defendant Frederic
Kaiser to monitor the price margins that Telecomponents and
Supply (TCS) was charging Defendant Altair Advanced
Industries (Altair) for component parts purchased from
foreign contract manufacturers. Both Bailey and Kaiser
testified that Kaiser told Bailey to let him know if the
price margins for those components climbed above 10-20%.
testified that in January 2015 she noticed for the first time
that the margin on some components had climbed above
Kaiser's designated range. Bailey testified that she
reported these excessive margins to Defendant Grace Borsari
and Kaiser because that is what Kaiser had instructed her to
do-in other words, she was doing her job by reporting the
information. Bailey testified that after she made her report,
Kaiser said the excessive margins could get the company in
trouble with the IRS. Kaiser testified that one concern he
had about the excessive margins was that they could create a
bad image if the company was ever audited by the IRS. There
was no evidence that Bailey knew about any tax implications
related to the excessive margins prior to reporting the
information to Kaiser in January 2015.
Bailey reported the excessive margins to Kaiser she was given
a raise and praised for her good work. Both Bailey and Kaiser
testified that Bailey was instructed to continue monitoring
the TCS price list and to report any excessive price margins.
Bailey testified that in July 2015, she again noticed
component prices with margins in excess of 20% and, as
instructed, reported the information to Kaiser.
did not present evidence that the excessive margins she
reported were a violation of the letter or purpose of federal
tax laws. Bailey did not present any evidence that the
excessive margins were illegal. Nor did Bailey present any
evidence that her reporting caused the Defendants to comply
with tax laws. Bailey testified that she had no special
training or experience regarding tax issues. Bailey testified
that the only reason she thought the price margins ...