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Labor & Employment Law

: New York Public Personnel Law

Employment-at-will status defeats claim of having a property interest in continued employment

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Employment-at-will status defeats claim of having a property interest in continued employment
Source: Adjunct Law Prof Blog; http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/adjunctprofs/

Reproduced with permission. Copyright 2008, Mitchell H. Rubinstein, Esq., Adjunct Professor of Law, St. Johns Law School and New York Law School, All rights reserved.

Trakis v. Manhattan College, ___A.D.3d___ (2d Dep't May 13, 2008), demonstrates how narrow the employment rights are of at will employees. A professor emeritus who functioned as an adjunct was discharged because of alleged racist and sexist comments. Because the Adjunct was employed at will, his discharge was not unlawful. As the court reasoned:

Where employment is at will, an employee may be terminated at any time, for any reason, or for no reason at all (see Lobosco v New York Tel. Co./NYNEX, 96 NY2d 312, 316; Sabetay v Sterling Drug, 69 NY2d 329, 333; Miller v Huntington Hosp., 15 AD3d 548, 549). There is no requirement that the employee be discharged in good faith (see Sabetay v Sterling Drug, 69 NY2d at 335); only two recognized exceptions exist to this rule, which are inapplicable herein (see Horn v New York Times, 100 NY2d 85, 96; Matter of De Petris v Union Settlement Assn., 86 NY2d 406, 410; Wieder v Skala, 80 NY2d 628, 638; Miller v Huntington Hosp., 15 AD3d at 549). There is no recognized tort of wrongful discharge in New York (see Lobosco v New York Tel. Co./NYNEX, 96 NY2d at 316; Murphy v American Home Prods. Corp., 58 NY2d 293, 297).

Here, the defendants satisfied their prima facie burden of establishing their entitlement to judgment as a matter of law dismissing the cause of action sounding in wrongful discharge. The plaintiff's employment contract specifically noted that he was an "at will" employee who could be terminated "at any time, for any reason." In opposition, the plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue of fact (see Zuckerman v City of New York, 49 NY2d 557, 562). As such, the defendants were entitled to summary judgment dismissing that cause of action (see Tramontozzi v St. Francis Coll., 232 AD2d 629; Howley v Newsday, Inc., 215 AD2d 729, 730; Scheiber v St. John's Univ., 195 AD2d 544, 547-548, mod on other grounds 84 NY2d 120).

Likewise, to the extent the plaintiff sufficiently pleaded a cause of action alleging that he was deprived of procedural due process, the defendants were entitled to summary judgment dismissing that cause of action (see Shovlin v University of Med. & Dentistry of New Jersey, 50 F Supp 2d 297, 316). Nowhere in the complaint does the plaintiff allege, at a minimum, conduct by the college "acting under color of law which deprived the injured party of a right, privilege or immunity guaranteed by the Constitution or the laws of the United States" (DiPalma v Phelan, 81 NY2d 754, 756; see Sharrock v Dell Buick-Cadillac, 45 NY2d 152, 158; Moghimzadeh v College of St. Rose, 236 AD2d 681, 682). In any event, as an at will employee, the plaintiff did not have a property interest in his continued employment (see Baron v Port Auth. of New York & New Jersey, 271 F3d 81, 89; Shovlin v University of Med. & Dentistry of New Jersey, 50 F Supp 2d at 316; Natalizio v City of Middletown, 301 AD2d 507, 507-508; Matter of Macina v North Salem Cent. School Dist., 221 AD2d 538, 539).

Mitchell H. Rubinstein

Full post as published by New York Public Personnel Law on June 06, 2008 (boomark / email).

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