Heads on a Pike: Wrongful Termination in the Age of Trump

2020-04-02T13:52:31-05:00 February 10th, 2020|

On Friday, February 7, 2020, President Donald Trump fired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, Ambassador Gordon Sondland, and—as an added bonus—Lt. Col. Vindman’s twin brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman. The three were clearly fired because Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Ambassador Sondland testified in the U.S. House of Representatives’ impeachment hearings against President Trump.

For 35 years, such retribution has been expressly outlawed in North Carolina.

If you think you have suffered wrongful termination or retaliation, contact the retaliation attorneys at Herrmann & Murphy.

Way back in 1985, Duke University instructed a nurse “that she should not tell all that she had seen relating to [a patient’s] treatment; some of the doctors warned her that if she did so she ‘would be in trouble.’ Pressures like that had already caused another nurse anesthetist at [Duke] to withhold information at her deposition. In spite of this when her testimony was taken plaintiff testified fully and truthfully. Sides v. Duke University, 74 N.C.App. 331, 333, 328 S.E.2d 818, 821 (1985). Duke University’s anesthesiologist had administered a near-lethal amount of drugs to a patient post-surgery, resulting in permanent brain damage. Ms. Sides had opposed the treatment and testified as much in the patient’s trial.

Duke University fired Ms. Sides for responding to the patient’s family’s subpoena and truthfully testifying about what happened. The Court ruled that allowing such retribution to go unchecked would result in “anarchy”. The Court found for Ms. Sides, reasoning that such retaliation “certainly cannot be suffered in a society such as ours without weakening the bond of counter balancing rights and obligations that holds such societies together. . . . A different interpretation would encourage and sanction lawlessness, which law by its very nature is designed to discourage and prevent.”

The Court held that no employer in North Carolina “has the right to discharge an employee and deprive him of his livelihood without civil liability because he refuses to testify untruthfully or incompletely in a court case. . . . One of the merited glories of this country is the multitude of rights that its people have, rights that are enforced as a matter of course by our courts, and nothing could be more inimical to their enjoyment than the unbridled law defying actions of some and the false or incomplete testimony of others. If we are to have law, those who so act against the public interest must be held accountable for the harm inflicted thereby; to accord them civil immunity would incongruously reward their lawlessness at the unjust expense of their innocent victims.

74 N.C.App. 331, 342-43, 328 S.E.2d 818, 826. North Carolina law does not allow President Trump’s brand of retaliation against employees in our state.

If you think you have suffered unlawful retaliation, contact the employment attorneys at Herrmann & Murphy right away.

From time to time, aggressive employers have gone so far as Trump did here with Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman. Firing someone for their brother’s perceived affronts takes retaliation to a whole ‘nother level. In the federal law context, the Supreme Court has clearly ruled it illegal to fire an employee because their close relative engaged in protected activity. Thompson v. N. Am. Stainless, LP, 562 U.S. 170, 175, 131 S. Ct. 863, 868, 178 L. Ed. 2d 694 (2011).

For all the reasons quoted above from Sides v. Duke, North Carolina courts should similarly find that firing Yevgeny Vindman because his brother testified against President Trump should be every bit as illegal as firing Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman himself. Allowing such retaliation to stand would similarly encourage every bit of lawlessness and anarchy that the North Carolina Court of Appeals was concerned about in the Duke University case.

At the start of Trump’s senate impeachment trial Rep. Adam Schiff warned that Trump was threatening to put anyone’s head “on a pike” if they crossed him and voted for impeachment. Time shall tell if the same level of outrage that accompanied Schiff’s warning will arise now that the President is following through on his mafia-like intimidation tactics. What is clear is that if any private sector employer in North Carolina tried something like what the President did Friday, they would be held liable for all damages suffered by the Vindmans and Mr. Sondland, in addition to punitive damages, and any potential emotional distress stemming from their impending unemployment.

If you think you have suffered unlawful retaliation, contact the wrongful termination attorneys at Herrmann & Murphy right away.

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