NC Court of Appeals Supports Wrongful Discharge Claim

In Combs v. City Electric Supply Company, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court in large part, concluding that the plaintiff had presented sufficient evidence to support a claim of wrongful discharge in violation of public policy and tortious interference with contract. The Court, however, upheld the dismissal of the plaintiff's Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act (UDTP) claim.

The plaintiff's case was based on the allegation that his former employer, City Electric Supply Company, terminated him in retaliation for reporting that the company was stealing from its customers' accounts. The plaintiff brought three claims: wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, tortious interference of contract, and the UDTP claim. At the close of plaintiff's evidence the trial judge granted the Defendants' Motion for a Directed Verdict and entered a judgment in favor of defendants.

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's decision to grant a directed verdict on the wrongful discharge and tortious interference claims because the plaintiff presented "more than a scintilla of evidence" in support of each element of these claims. Crucially, the Court found that there was sufficient evidence that the company had committed criminal conduct, and that the plaintiff was terminated for reporting this conduct.

The Court, however, affirmed the directed verdict on the UDTP claim because the employment dispute between the parties did not include any conduct that would constitute activity "affecting commerce.'" According to the Court, a retaliation claim is simply an employment dispute and does not fall within the purview of the UDTP statute.