Legal Memorandum: Motion to Dismiss

Issue: When should the court grant a motion to dismiss in a wrongful termination matter in Wisconsin.

Area of Law: Employee Law, Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Motion to dismiss; Wrongful termination; At-will employee
Jurisdiction: Wisconsin
Cited Cases: 140 Wis. 2d 373; 823 F.2d 1086; 579 N.W.2d 217; 535 N.W.2d 81; 619 N.W.2d 91; 237 Wis. 2d 19; 134 Wis. 2d 136; 614 N.W.2d 443; 410 N.W.2d 604; 237 Wis. 2d 776; 344 N.W.2d 536; 616 N.W.2d 114; 669 F. Supp. 243; 396 N.W.2d 167; 483 N.W.2d 211; 384 N.W.2d 325; 234 Wis. 2d 1; 535 N.W.2d 51; 376 N.W.2d 89; 214 Wis. 2d 654; 564 N.W.2d 692; 219 Wis. 2d 99; 335 N.W.2d 834; 211 Wis. 2d 101; 117 Wis. 2d 448
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 12/01/2000

          The issue whether a trial court correctly granted a motion to dismiss is a question of law that the Court of Appeals reviews without deference to the trial court, liberally construing the pleadings in the plaintiff’s favor, and affirming if the plaintiff cannot recover under any circumstances, Heinritz v. Lawrence Univ., 194 Wis. 2d 607, 611-12, 535 N.W.2d 81, 83 (Ct. App. 1995).  Likewise, the specific issue underlying the dismissal—whether the plaintiff identified a well-defined, fundamental public policy that was sufficient to meet the narrow cause of action for wrongful termination under the public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine—is a question of law that the Court reviews independently.  Strozinsky v. School Dist. of Brown Deer, 237 Wis. 2d 19, 614 N.W.2d 443, 452 (2000).

This issue is governed by well-settled Wisconsin law as set forth in a now-familiar set of Wisconsin Supreme Court decisions regarding Wisconsin’s at-will employment doctrine and the public policy exception to the doctrine.  First announced in Brockmeyer v. Dun & Bradstreet, 113 Wis. 2d 561, 335 N.W.2d 834, 840 (1983), the at-will employment doctrine is subject to a so-called “public policy exception,” under which an at-will employee states a claim for wrongful termination if “the termination clearly contravenes the public welfare and gravely violates paramount requirements of public interest.”  Thus, although an employer generally has the right to lawfully terminate an at-will employee for any reason, there is […]

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