Washington Employers Get Rare Break From Supreme Court

Washington employers got a rare break from the Washington State Supreme Court on Thursday in a 5/4 decision (Wiggins did not participate) holding that employees cannot rely on WISHA to state a claim for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy.

Matthew Cudney was discharged after complaining to management that his branch general manager was driving while intoxicated. Cudney sued his employer for wrongful discharge in violation of the policies embodied in WISHA. The reason Cudney relied on the public policy tort theory rather than a statutory WISHA violation is that he failed to comply with the statutory requirement that complaints be filed with the Director of Labor & Industries within 30 days of the discharge.

The Court concluded that the broad protections for workers and available remedies under WISHA were adequate to protect the policies of a safe workplace and whistleblower protection. As a result, the Court refused to extend the law to allow a discharge in violation of public policy tort claim based on WISHA.

This is a good case for employers. Not only does the decision limit employees to the remedies and procedure under WISHA, the Court’s reasoning will likely have broader application when defending against other types of public policy tort claims.   Cudney v. ALSCO, Inc.  The dissent is here.