The courts giveth and the courts taketh away, and how you view those actions depends on which side of a lawsuit you sit on. In a recent ruling by a federal appeals court, Merck & Co. ($MRK) was handed a win in an employee retaliation lawsuit, reversing the half-a-million-dollar verdict that former employee Jennifer Scott had been granted last year.
The court says Scott was an at-will employee and ordered the lower court to reverse its decision and hand the victory to Merck, Pharmalot reports.
Scott was fired by Merck in 2008. She claimed it was because she had raised questions about her supervisor's behavior to the company's ethics office. Even though officials determined he had violated company policy, Merck allowed him to remain responsible for reviewing Scott's performance. That responsibility continued after he was transferred to another job. Based on his negative reviews, Scott was fired. She sued and won $555,000.
Merck appealed, pointing out several places in which Scott's employment contract with the company made her an at-will employee. They said that while the Merck ethics policy states that employees who report potential violations won't be retaliated against, she couldn't rely on that language to override her at-will status, according to the ruling. The appeals court said Bingo and reversed the verdict.
Given that each retaliation lawsuit stems from a specific set of circumstances, it is no big surprise that the courts have been all over the place on this kind of litigation. In 2010, one court reinstated such a suit for a Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) scientist who said he was fired for sticking up for a colleague. In the same year, another court upheld a lower court ruling against an ex-Novo Nordisk ($NVO) sales rep who had claimed the company fired her as punishment for complaining about sexual harassment.