Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Writ Second Division
Prohibition St. Louis County Circuit Court 16SL-CC00213
M. GAERTNER, JR, PRESIDING JUDGE
issue in this case is whether an employer may demand as a
condition of continued employment that an employee withdraw a
full order of protection that a trial court previously
granted after a hearing in which the court found a credible
threat to the employee's physical safety. We find that
such an action violates the public policy exception to the
at-will employment doctrine, in that the Missouri legislature
has established a clear mandate of public policy to protect
victims of domestic violence in this state. Latoya Ballard
(Relator) filed a petition for writ of prohibition or
mandamus, seeking to compel the Respondent, the Honorable
Ellen Levy Siwak, to vacate her order dismissing Count I of
Relator's petition for wrongful discharge. We issued a
preliminary order in prohibition, which we now make
facts here, as set forth by Relator and taken as true,
as follows. Relator began working for Rancho Manor Healthcare
and Rehabilitation Center, LLC (Rancho Manor) in September of
2014 as a nurse. Later that month, Rancho Manor also hired
Jason Henderson (Henderson) as a floor nurse. Henderson and
Relator were in a romantic relationship from 2008 through
June of 2014, and they had two children together. On October
11, 2014, Henderson assaulted Relator in her home, causing
injuries to her and one of her children. Law enforcement
arrested Henderson and Relator obtained an ex parte order of
protection against Henderson. The next day, Relator provided
her direct supervisor and the Compliance Nurse at Rancho
Manor with a copy of the ex parte order of protection, and
Relator's direct supervisor stated that she would arrange
a schedule so Relator and Henderson did not work together.
Later that month, Rancho Manor promoted Henderson to
Assistant Director of Nursing, a supervisory position over
all nurses, including Relator.
October 23, 2014, a trial court entered a full, one-year
order of protection against Henderson after a court hearing.
The full order of protection prohibited Henderson from
entering Relator's place of employment while she was
present. Relator again provided her direct supervisor with a
copy of the full order of protection. Relator expressed
concerns that Henderson was now one of her supervisors and
requested Rancho Manor develop an action plan to prevent
interaction between Henderson and Relator. Rancho Manor never
informed Relator of any proposed action plan.
December 19, 2014, Relator called into Rancho to request a
sick day. Henderson answered the telephone and was verbally
abusive to Relator, and he threatened to file a complaint
against her nursing license if she did not report for work.
Relator came to work. On her way home, Relator called her
direct supervisor who reprimanded her for coming onto Rancho
Manor premises while Henderson was present. On December 23,
2014, Rancho Manor's Compliance Nurse requested that
Relator withdraw her full order of protection against
refused. Later that same day, Rancho Manor's Compliance
Nurse again called to request Relator withdraw her full order
of protection against Henderson, saying that Rancho Manor
would not place Relator on the work schedule until she
withdrew her full order of protection against Henderson.
Relator left her position at Rancho Manor because Rancho
Manor would no longer place her on the work schedule unless
she withdrew her full order of protection against Henderson.
Relator filed a petition for damages against Rancho Manor
claiming, in Count I, wrongful discharge for violation of the
public policy outlined in Missouri's Adult Abuse Act (the
MAAA), which encourages individuals to obtain orders of
protection to ensure their safety,  Rancho Manor filed a motion
to dismiss Count I of Relator's petition, asserting
Relator failed to state a claim upon which relief could be
granted in that the MAAA does not constitute the type of
clear mandate of public policy necessary to give rise to a
public policy discharge claim. Rancho Manor argued the MAAA
does not explicitly prohibit an employer from terminating an
employee for obtaining an order of protection. Respondent
dismissed Count I, finding that Relator failed to state a
claim upon which relief could be granted for the reasons set
forth by Rancho Manor. Relator seeks relief through a writ of
prohibition or mandamus to reinstate Count I and proceed on
motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted "is solely a test of the adequacy
of the plaintiffs petition." Nazeri v. Mo. Valley
College, 860 S.W.2d 303, 306 (Mo. banc 1993). Where the
petition has stated facts that meet the elements of a
recognized cause of action, then dismissal for failure to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted is not
appropriate. See id.
Court has jurisdiction to issue original remedial writs. Mo.
Const, art V, sec. 4.1. A writ of prohibition is a
discretionary writ that is appropriate to prevent an abuse of
judicial discretion, to avoid irreparable harm to a party, or
to prevent the exercise of extra-judicial authority.
McCoy v. Martinez, 480 S.W.3d 420, 423-24 (Mo. App.
E.D. 2016). A writ of prohibition can restrain further
enforcement of an order that is beyond the trial court's
authority "as long as some part of the court's
duties in the matter remain to be performed." State
ex rel. Am. Bouvier Des Flanders. Club, Inc. v. Jamison,
413 S.W.3d 359, 361 (Mo. App. E.D. 2013). Relator in essence
argues Respondent exceeded her authority in granting Rancho
Manor's motion to dismiss Relator's cause of action
for wrongful termination as set forth in Count I. We agree.
undisputed that Relator was an at-will employee of Rancho
Manor. Employers may terminate the employment of at-will
employees at any time "for any reason or for no
reason." Margiotta v. Christian Hosp., 315
S.W.3d 342, 346 (Mo. banc 2010) (citation omitted). However,
an employer's rights are not unfettered, and Missouri has
recognized that an employer may not terminate an at-will
employee where the termination would violate a clear mandate
of public policy. See id. The public policy exception
prevents employers from terminating at-will employees
"for doing that which is beneficial to society."
Fleshner v. Pepose Vision Inst., 304 S.W.3d 81, 92
(Mo. banc 2010). Missouri courts recognize four categories of
the public policy exception to the at-will employment
doctrine: (1) refusing to perform an illegal act or an act
contrary to a strong mandate of public policy; (2) reporting
the employer or fellow employees to superiors or third
parties for their violations of law or public policy; (3)
acting in a manner that public policy would encourage; or (4)
filing a claim for worker's compensation. Delaney v.
Signature Health Care Foundation, 376 S.W.3d 55, 57 (Mo.
App. E.D. 2012).
public policy exception is "narrowly drawn, " and
judges and courts may not create public policy absent
explicit statutory authority. See Margiotta. 315
S.W.3d at 346. Courts must find a clear mandate of public
policy in "the letter and purpose" of the cited
statutory authority. Delaney, 376 S.W.3d at 56. For
example, a plaintiff claiming wrongful termination cannot
cite "a patchwork of various statutes" to cobble
together a claim for public policy, but must cite to a
specific statute, regulation, or constitutional provision
that makes "a clear statement of public policy."
Hedrick v. Jay Wolfe Imports I, LLC,404 S.W.3d 454,
459 (Mo. App. W.D. 2013). We do not, however, require a
plaintiff to "rely on an employer's direct
violation of a statute or regulation, " but rather,
"the public policy must be reflected by ...