Employment Law – Can an Employer be Liable for Intentional Interference with its own Employee's Employment Contract?

Posted on Oct 14 2013 9:03AM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Brief Summary:  The Tennessee Court of Appeals court determined that an employer cannot be held liable for intentional interference with its own employment contract with an employee.


Analysis:  The Tennessee Court of Appeals decision of Keith A. Davis v. Shaw Industries Group, Inc., 2013 WL 1577642, No. M2012-01688-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. 2013) involved a situation where an employee was terminated from his employment in Tennessee.  The employee was terminated for violating company policy for allegedly lying during an investigation into whether he was involved in a romantic relationship with the human resource manager.  Part of plaintiff’s case was an assertion that the employer intentionally interfered with his employment contract with the employer.  This claim was dismissed by the trial court on a motion for summary judgment and this issue was appealed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals.


The Tennessee Court of Appeals noted that in order to prove a claim of intentional interference with an at will employment contract the plaintiff must establish:


the defendant intentionally and without justification procured the discharge of the employee in question.  The claim contemplate [s] a three-party relationship—the plaintiff as employee, the corporation as employer, and the defendants as procurers or inducers.


Davis at 3.  The Appellate Court therefore found the trial court correctly determined the employer could not be held liable for intentional interference with its own employment contract with the plaintiff employee.  The court found that Tennessee law is very clear on this issue when it stated:


[A] plaintiff who asserts a claim for intentional interference with employment must assert facts showing that the defendant stood as a third party to the relationship between the plaintiff employee and the employer.  [O]ne of the fundamental axioms of interference claims is that a party cannot be held liable for wrongfully interfering with its own contract—instead, there must be some interference from a separate, third party.


Davis at 3.  As a result, a claim against an employer for improper termination cannot be based upon intentional interference with a contract that exists between the employer and employee.  Tennessee law has been very clear on this issue over the years and therefore this is a good defense to this type of case.


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TAGS: Breach of Contract, Employment Law, Corporation/LLC Law, Contracts
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Jason A. Lee is a Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC. He practices in all areas of defense litigation inside and outside of Tennessee.

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