What is the story of Jason Little and how the public policy exception to employment at will protected him from physical assault?
Jason Little worked as a clerk for a convenience store in Jackson, Tennessee. While on duty, Little noticed a man across the street assaulting a woman. Little grabbed a baseball bat from under the store counter, ran across the street and yelled at the man. Little’s actions saved the woman from further harm.
Two days later the store fired Little for leaving store property to engage in a fight. The store claimed that it could not risk this sort of “liability.” Little sued for wrongful termination, alleging he was subjected to a retaliatory discharge for protecting the safety of a third party. He cited a Tennessee statute providing that a person is justified in using or threatening to use physical force to protect another person.
The Tennessee Court of Appeals agreed with a trial court’s refusal to dismiss Little’s retaliatory discharge claim. “Here, Tennessee’s public policy of placing a high priority on the sanctity of human life is clearly evinced in its statutes,” the appeals court wrote in Little v. Eastgate of Jackson (2007). The appeals court believed that Tennessee law showed a clear public policy of encouraging people to act to protect people who are in “imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm.”