The Oregon Court of Appeals has reversed a trial court’s decision and distinguished between consulting an attorney for legal advice related to employment and acting as a whistleblower. This is the latest in a number of cases regarding whether a wrongful discharge claim is preempted by existing laws.
In this case, Rohrer v. Oswego Cove, LLC, the plaintiff was employed as an assistant manager before receiving harassment over the telephone from an unknown person, which was simply disregarded by her employer. She sought out legal advice from an attorney and was subsequently fired without a clear cause.
In response, she filed a lawsuit alleging wrongful discharge. The employer filed a motion to the court to dismiss the claim because it would be superseded by Oregon’s whistleblower statute ORS 659A.199. The trial court agreed and dismissed the claim.
However, upon appeal, the lower court’s decision was reversed, and the case is free to move forward. This establishes a clear distinction between whistleblower claims and retaliation against an employee for seeking legal counsel.
This makes it important for employers to consider when an employee consults an attorney in any employment-related capacity whether it may be legally protected. This is particularly crucial if disciplinary action is to be taken to ensure an employee’s rights are not violated.