Harper v. State (12/27/2016)

January 6, 2017

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One holds that at-will employees do not have a claim for wrongful termination based on the public policy underlying the termination-for-cause requirements of Arizona’s State Personnel System.

Several former employees of the department of Child Protective Services (“CPS”) sued for wrongful termination.  Under the Employment Protection Act (“EPA”), A.R.S. § 23-1501, employees may sue for wrongful termination when the discharge violates a public policy set forth in or underlying a statute.  The plaintiffs argued that their termination violated the general policy of Arizona’s State Personnel System as stated in A.R.S. § 41-742(B)(4), which provides that employees who are competently performing their jobs should be retained. 

The trial court granted the State’s 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.  The Court of Appeals affirmed.

The Court observed that while the State Personnel System requires cause to terminate certain “covered” employees who are performing competently, it preserves the at-will nature of employment for “uncovered” employees such as the plaintiffs.  Because A.R.S. § 41-742(B)(4) did not apply to the plaintiffs as at-will employees, the statute could not form the basis of a wrongful termination claim under the EPA. 

Judge Gould wrote for the Court; Judges Swann and Orozco joined.