A Kansas City, Mo., dealership that fired an employee because his live-in girlfriend bought a new vehicle for $1,000 less from a competitor didn't violate state laws, a Missouri Court of Appeals panel has ruled.
The three-member panel rejected a wrongful termination suit by Joshua Hedrick, the former Internet sales manager at Jay Wolfe Honda, finding nothing improper with company policy requiring employees and members of their households to give the store the chance to match competitors' prices.
Jay Wolfe Honda hired Hedrick in 2010 as an at-will employee, which under state law meant that Wolfe had the right to terminate him "for cause or without cause," according to the decision.
In May 2012, Hedrick asked the store's general sales manager for a quote on a new Accord SE for his girlfriend. The quote was about $600 above the car's normal price point, so the girlfriend shopped around and bought an Accord elsewhere for about $1,000 below the price Hedrick had received from Wolfe Honda, the court said.
When the general sales manager learned about the transaction, he fired Hedrick, saying, "As your employer, I can't have somebody work for me who bought a car somewhere else, so I have to let you go," the decision said.
Hedrick sued to recover back pay, but a lower court judge dismissed the case without trial.
The appeals panel unanimously upheld that ruling, rejecting Hedrick's argument that his termination violated one of the public policy exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine.
According to his argument, Missouri's public policy allows citizens to conduct business freely and that by patronizing his employer's competitor for a better price on the Honda, he and his girlfriend acted in accordance with a public policy Missouri encourages.
But in an opinion by Judge Gary Witt, the appeals court said no existing state laws "represent a clear mandate of public policy that clearly encourages the act of buying a vehicle at the best price one could find, regardless of the consequences that decision brings."
As for antitrust claims in the suit, the court found no evidence that Jay Wolfe Honda had agreed or conspired with other dealerships, businesses or organizations to restrain trade. In addition, the court said: "The internal employee purchase policy of Wolfe has little bearing on its ability to corner the market for Hondas. Hedrick provides no allegations that an anti-competitive effect has swept over the market for Hondas."
Plaintiff's lawyer Ryan Paulus of Kansas City, Mo., said he was disappointed by the ruling but plans no further appeal. "There's not a lot of protection for employees," Paulus said, and the appeals court left it to the state legislature to clarify the rights employees may have under the public policy exception to at-will termination.
A lawyer for the dealership did not respond to requests for comment.