Session November 5, 2014.
Tenn. R. App. P. 11 Appeal by Permission; Judgment of the Court of Appeals Affirmed. Appeal by Permission from the Court of Appeals, Western Section Circuit Court for Obion County. No. CC10CV204. William B. Acree, Judge.
Justin S. Gilbert, Chattanooga, Tennessee; Jonathan L. Bobbitt, Brentwood, Tennessee; and Jessica F. Salonus, Jackson, Tennessee, for the appellant, Charles Haynes.
James M. Glasgow Jr., Union City, Tennessee; Timothy R. Holton, Memphis, Tennessee; and Michael P. McGartland and Eugene E. Borchardt, Fort Worth, Texas, for the appellee, Formac Stables, Inc.
Robert D. Meyers, Ryan M. Skertich, and Brandon D. Pettes, Memphis, Tennessee, for the amicus curiae, the Tennessee Defense Lawyers Association.
GARY R. WADE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which SHARON G. LEE, C.J., and CORNELIA A. CLARK and JEFFREY S. BIVINS, JJ., joined. HOLLY KIRBY, J., not participating.
GARY R. WADE, JUSTICE.
The plaintiff asserted claims for retaliatory discharge pursuant to both the common law and the Tennessee Public Protection Act, alleging that the owner of the employer had engaged in illegal conduct and had terminated the plaintiff's employment when he acted as a whistleblower by complaining of the conduct to the owner. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff's claims because, according to his own allegations, he had not reported the illegal activity to anyone other than the person responsible for the activity. The Court of Appeals affirmed. We hold that an employee must report an employer's wrongdoing to someone other than the wrongdoer to qualify as a whistleblower, which may require reporting to an outside entity when the wrongdoer is the manager, owner, or highest ranking officer within the company. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed.
I. Facts and Procedural History
Charles Haynes (the " Plaintiff" ) worked as a horse groom for Formac Stables, Inc. (" Formac" ). After Formac terminated the Plaintiff's employment in June of 2010, he filed a complaint for retaliatory discharge pursuant to both the common law and the Tennessee Public Protection Act (" TPPA" ), Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-1-304 (2014). When Formac responded by filing a motion to dismiss, the Plaintiff amended his complaint, alleging that on April 3, 2010, during working hours, he suffered an injury to the head when kicked by a Tennessee Walking Horse named " Bruce Pearl." The Plaintiff maintained that he asked Formac's owner for permission to leave work so that he could seek appropriate medical treatment. The owner refused, informing the Plaintiff that the only treatment he would allow was for a veterinarian to seal the wound with horse sutures.
According to the Plaintiff, the owner explained to him that if he did not like that option, he could " find [him]self another job." The Plaintiff's pleadings indicate that he submitted to the stitching procedure only because he feared that he would otherwise lose his job.
The Plaintiff alleged that during the three months following the incident he complained to the owner of severe headaches caused by the lack of proper medical care. On June 29, 2010, the owner terminated the Plaintiff, allegedly because of his refusal to remain silent about the illegal stitching procedure.
In response to the Plaintiff's amended complaint, Formac again moved to dismiss, arguing that the Plaintiff had failed to state a valid claim for retaliatory discharge because, according to his own allegations, he had not reported the illegal activity to anyone other than the owner. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal. Haynes v. Formac Stables, Inc., No. W2013-00535-COA-R3-CV, 2013 WL 6283717, at *6 (Tenn. Ct.App. Dec. 4, 2013). We granted review to address whether an employee asserting a whistleblower claim of retaliatory discharge must report illegal activity by his employer to someone other ...