(CN) – A car salesman is not protected by wrongful-termination law because he refused to come to work for five days to protest the dealership’s business practices, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled.
Kevin Lamson sold cars at Crater Lake Motors for 15 years without incident, enjoying the firm’s low-pressure sales tactics and what Lamson called “a high degree of ethics and integrity.”
However, this relationship soured in 2004 when Crater Lake tried to boost its sales with a special event using an outside sales team. Crater Lake did not force Lamson and regular colleagues to work with the new sales team, but Lamson said he would try to keep an open mind.
Lamson didn’t like what he saw. He claimed the new salespeople engaged in unethical behavior, including wrongfully characterizing the event as a “bank sale,” packing insurance costs into the monthly payments without the customers’ knowledge, and tricking customers into signing forms that authorized credit checks.
He voiced his displeasure to his manager, who later told Lamson he was dissatisfied with his performance as a salesman. The manager said another outside sales event would take place the following year that that Lamson either had to participate or quit.
Lamson responded by writing a letter to the owner of the company, explaining his position and stating that he would not participate in the next sales event. The owner asked him to reconsider and if he would participate as a watchdog against unethical behavior.
Lamson did not participate and did not call into the office during the event. When he came to work for his next regular shift, he was fired.
Lamson sued for wrongful termination, claiming he was fired for his conduct that went toward an important public purpose: stopping illegal and unethical sales tactics. The jury ruled in Lamson’s favor.
However, the Oregon Court of Appeals overturned the verdict. It determined that Lamson had not been forced to commit unethical behavior and that his act of refusing to report for work did not enjoy high societal value.
The state high court upheld the appellate court’s decision. Acknowledging that Lamson was fired for complaining about the sales tactics, Justice Gillette ruled that “we cannot find that plaintiff’s actions fulfilled the kind of duty that is protected by actions for wrongful discharge.”