In Barnett v. Sequim Valley Ranch, several employees were pressured to lie under oath or give misleading testimony in order to support a litigation in which their employer was involved. The employees refused to lie, and felt compelled to quit.? ?They brought suit alleging wrongful discharge? in ?violation ?of ?a? clear ?mandate? of public policy. ?After a protracted litigation, a jury found??? in??? their? ?favor?? ?and??? awarded??? them collectively? $427,320.?? ?The ?employer ?appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.
On appeal, the employer alleged that the claim was barred by the statute of limitations. ?The Court of Appeals recognized a three year statute of limitations, and that either an actual or constructive discharge would support the claim.? ?The Court rejected the argument that the statute began to run from the last date that the unlawful employment practice occurred.? ?The Court ruled instead that the statute begins to run from the date of resignation or the last day the employee actually works.?? In this case, the employees wrote a letter on September 20, 2004, stating that their last day of work was September 18, 2004.? ?Because the employees filed suit on September 17, 2007, the statute of limitations had not expired.
The employer also challenged the jury instruction on the subject of constructive discharge. ?The trial court instructed as follows: ?1. That the defendant deliberately made working conditions intolerable for him/her; 2. That a reasonable person in his/her position would be forced to quit; 3. That he/she did quit because of the conditions and not for any other reason; and 4. That he/she suffered damage as a result of being forced to quit. ?The Court rejected the employer?s argument that the employees must prove that they had no alternative but to quit. ?The Court distinguished Molsness v. City of Walla Walla, 84 Wn. App. 393, 928 P.2d 1108 (1996), where the Plaintiff resigned rather than challenge a decision to discharge for cause.
The employer further objected to the failure to instruct the jury about the criminal elements of perjury, ?witness ?tampering, ?or? witness intimidation.?? ?The? Court ?of? Appeals ?found ?that such instructions were unnecessary. ??This was not a criminal trial related to the crimes of perjury, witness tampering, or witness intimidation. This was a trial? related to? wrongful termination. The trial court?s instructions, as a whole, clearly articulated the elements of the tort claim and its statement of the applicable public policy satisfactorily distilled Washington law in a manner that allowed any reasonable juror to decide the issue.? The employer attempted to raise the jeopardy issue; that there were adequate alternative means of vindicating public policy. ?Because this issue was raised for the first time on appeal, it was not considered.
Barnett ?v. ?Sequim ?Valley? Ranch ?LLC, ?– ?Wn. App. —, — P.3d — (Div. II 3/5/2013) (Qunn- Brintnall, Van Deren, Penoyar).