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Upton v. JWP Businessland, Inc

Citation. 425 Mass. 756, 682 N.E.2d 1357, 1997 Mass. 13 I.E.R. Cas. (BNA) 305.
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Brief Fact Summary.

An at-will employee was discharged after she was unable to work extended hours because of her child-care responsibilities.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

An employer will not be liable to a discharged at-will employee when that employee was let go for being unable to work long hours because of domestic responsibilities.


Joanna Upton (Plaintiff) is a single mother who was an at-will employee for JWP Businessland, Inc. (Defendant). Defendant wanted her to work long hours, but doing so prevented Plaintiff from spending time with her young son. Plaintiff informed Defendant that she would not be able to continue working the long hours, and she was discharged two weeks later. Plaintiff claims that her discharge was contrary to public policy, and she seeks damages from Defendant.


Can a wrongful discharge claim be instituted by an at-will employee against an employer because the former employee cannot work the required late hours?


No. Judgment affirmed.
Generally, an at-will employee may be terminated at any time for any or no reason. An employer will be liable only when the discharge violates a clearly established public policy.
The public policy exception makes compensation available to employees who are discharged for asserting a legal right, for doing what the law requires, or for refusing to disobey the law.
There is no public policy that discourages employer from asking their adult employees from working long hours. There is no public policy served by an employee refusing to work those hours.
Plaintiff asserts that the Commonwealth has a public policy that strongly favors the care and protection of children. But, the policy of protecting the family and promoting the best interests of the children does not transform the discharge of an at-will employee who cannot work the required longs hours into a discharge in violation of a well-defined public policy. Compensation is not available every time an at-will employee experiences a conflict between job requirements and parental responsibilities.
There is no public policy which requires an employer to make a case-by-case analysis of an at-will employee’s domestic circumstances or face liability for having discharged the employee. If there were, then an at-will employee could only be fired for just cause.
Plaintiff was never promised a certain number of hours a week, so she cannot claim she reasonably relied on an unambiguous promise that would estop Defendant from firing her.


At-will employment can be ended by the employer for any or no reason, as long as a clearly established public policy is not violated. Child-care is not considered a public policy reason to prevent discharge.

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