Three Fire Chiefs in Crews v. Monarch Fire Protection District, 771 F.3d 1085 (8th Cir. 2014) challenged their terminations from employment, claiming procedural due process violations and defamation. The three Fire Chiefs were terminated from their positions after the Missouri Court of Appeals upheld a jury verdict against the Monarch Fire Protection District for sexual discrimination, concerning the treatment of several female firefighters. The Fire Chiefs had been given an opportunity to resign, but refused and were then terminated.
The Board for the fire protection district’s defended its decision to terminate, based on the Court of Appeals ruling. Several members of the Board were alleged to have stated the Chiefs were discharged for promoting an environment of unacceptable discrimination. The Fire Chiefs claimed Monarch violated their fourteenth amendment rights without due process of law.
Missouri is an at-will state and the Fire Chiefs did not have express employment contracts. The Court determined “In Missouri, an employee can be terminated at the will of his employer unless a valid employment contract – complete with ‘offer, acceptance and bargained for consideration – states otherwise.” Nothing in this case established the elements of an enforceable contract, and therefore the Fire Chiefs were at-will employees and held no property interest in their continued employment. Additionally, the Chiefs forfeited any loss-of-liberty claim when they failed to request a name clearing hearing; and the Chiefs did not clearly establish any constitutional violations.
Minnesota is also an at-will state, unless an employee is covered by a union contract, or has a contract with his/her employer. Minnesota employers should be aware at-will employment can be negated through an employment contract.