What was the legal issue? What did the court decide?

The issue in the present cause is whether termination of an at-will employee for his refusal to dismiss his pending claims against a third party…constitutes a violation of Oklahoma’s public policy such that would support a wrongful discharge action against the employer under the limited public policy exception to the employment-at-will doctrine. We answer in the negative. * * *

The trial court correctly dismissed Plaintiff/ Appellant’s Petition in this matter and we therefore affirm. The facts giving rise to Employee’s termination are as follows: At some point during Employee’s employment at the Bank, Employee became a party to litigation initiated by the City of Grove, which was a customer of the Bank. Employee filed…[a] counterclaim in that action, seeking attorney fees and costs for defending the action in addition to a declaratory judgment that certain documents sought were public records subject to inspection, copying and/or mechanical reproduction pursuant to the Open Records Act. Bank insisted that Employee abandon his counterclaim against the City of Grove, and relayed that Employee would be terminated if he persisted with his counterclaim. Employee refused to drop his counterclaim against the City of Grove and he ultimately was forced to resign and/or was terminated from his employment. Employee asserts, and Bank does not dispute the fact, that Employee ultimately prevailed in his action against the City of Grove. * * *

The longstanding employment at-will rule is generally that an employment contract is of an indefinite duration and may be terminated without cause at any time without the employer incurring liability for breach of contract. In Burk [an earlier decision of this court], we created “the Burk tort” with our adoption of the public policy exception to the at-will termination rule to apply “in a narrow class of cases in which the discharge is contrary to a clear mandate of public policy as articulated by constitutional, statutory or decisional law.” At the time of our recognition of this narrow tort, we further provided, “[in light of the vague meaning of the term public policy we believe the public policy exception must be tightly circumscribed.]” “An actionable tort claim under Oklahoma law is where an employee is discharged for refusing to act in violation of an established and well-defined public policy or for performing an act consistent with a clear and compelling public policy.” Plaintiff/Employee in this action alleges wrongful termination “in violation of the public policies of the State of Oklahoma,” and cites only one alleged source of the purported public policy, which is the Open Records Act. The precise question before us is whether this Act is a basis for an action in tort against an employer for an at-will employee’s discharge. * * *

The Open Records Act generally provides for public inspection and copying of records…. * * *

While the Open Records Act expressly sets forth the public policy concerning the people’s right to know and be fully informed about their government, it is silent as to any public policy against conditioning continued employment on the abandonment of claims pursuant to the Act. It is the latter alleged public policy which must be deducible from the Act in order for the Employee to state a claim under the limited Burk tort public policy exception to the employment at–will doctrine. * * *

While we recognize the Open Records Act speaks explicitly of public policy—specifically concerning the people’s right to knowledge and information about their government—in keeping with that particular public policy, Employee here made the choice to forego his employment with the Bank and ultimately was victorious in his pursuit of his rights and remedies afforded under the Open Records Act in his action against the City of Grove. Employee was not ordered to perform an illegal act or denied an opportunity to exercise his legal rights such that might serve as public policy grounds giving rise to liability for an at-will employee’s discharge. Rather, the Bank’s decision to terminate Employee upon Employee’s refusal to abandon claims against Bank’s customer was a private business decision. * * *

In Hayes, while we openly criticized the employer’s decision to terminate an employee for uncovering coemployee embezzlement and reporting it to the company hierarchy, and specifically noted “we might even think it is morally wrong,” we nevertheless concluded “the Burk tort does not protect an employee from his employer’s poor business judgment, corporate foolishness or moral transgressions, but only protects the employee from termination by the employer when such discharge has violated a clear mandate of public policy.” Thus, even if we believe Bank’s decision to terminate Employee in this case was contrary to good business decision-making or even morally wrong, we find the termination violates no clear mandate of public policy. * * *

In sum, we hold the trial court correctly dismissed Employee’s Petition for failure to state a claim. Employer/Bank did not violate public policy when it conditioned Employee’s employment upon Employee’s abandonment of his counterclaim pursuant to the Open Records Act against the Employer/Bank’s customer.

Q. What was the legal issue? What did the court decide?

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