In an opinion today, the Missouri Supreme Court established two new legal precedents-one dealing with juror misconduct inside the jury room and another that established the public-policy exception to the at-will employment rule.
The court in Michelle Fleshner v. Pepose Vision Institute said that instances where juror misconduct is alleged inside the jury room, an evidentiary hearing should be held to determine whether the misconduct occurred.
Fleshner was awarded $30,000 in actual damages and $95,000 in punitive damages by a jury for her wrongful termination claim. Fleshner alleged she was terminated after she assisted in a federal investigation into whether the company had failed to pay its employees overtime. After the trial, a juror approached Pepose Vision’s attorneys and told them that another juror had made anti-Semitic slurs against the owner of Pepose Vision’s wife. Pepose Vision appealed after a judge denied its motion for new trial due to juror misconduct.
The court also recognized a public-policy exception to the at-will employment rule. This exception provides that an at-will employee may not be terminated for reporting violations of wrongdoing or refusing to violate any law or clear mandate of public policy. The general rule in Missouri is that an at-will employee may be terminated for any reason or no reason.
Along with this, the court, in its unanimous opinion, said that the standard of causation must be a “contributing factor” standard-that the behavior protected in the public-policy exception was the contributing factor in an employee’s termination.
The case is Michelle Fleshner v. Pepose Vision Institute, SC90032.