A little over a year ago I wrote about the Court of Appeals’ decision in Berry v. Liberty Holdings, Inc. In that decision the Court of Appeals determined that Iowa’s comparative fault statute was a basis for a public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine. I mentioned that, despite the Court of Appeals’ decision, the case was far from over.
Today, the Iowa Supreme Court issued its ruling in Berry v. Liberty Holdings, Inc., vacating the Court of Appeals decision and reinstating the district court’s dismissal of the case. The Supreme Court disagreed that the comparative fault statute was a source of public policy. Rather, it found that the purpose of the law is to provide a framework or set of rules one must follow when assigning fault in negligence cases.
The Court explained that the statute being used to support a wrongful termination claim must “relate to the public health, safety or welfare and embody a clearly defined and well-recognized public policy that protects the employee’s activities.” The statute cannot deal merely with individual interests. The Court went on to explain the history and purpose of the comparative fault statute:
Chapter 668 did not create any new causes of action. Rather, it created a set of rules under which the parties will try all tort actions when the action involved ‘fault’ as defined by the statute. Therefore, chapter 668 more closely resembles a statute that attempts to regulate private conduct and imposes requirements that do not implicate public policy concerns.
For this reason, the Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeals’ decision and reinstatned the district court’s dismissal. The decision reaffirms the Court’s adherence to the at-will employment doctrine except in limited circumstances.