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Don’t Press Your Luck: Mississippi Supreme Court Refuses To Apply Exception

Posted: Jul 10, 2015

In Galle v. Isle of Capri Casinos, Inc., et al., the Supreme Court of Mississippi recently reversed a prior Court of Appeals decision finding a question of fact as to whether the Isle of Capri Casinos, Inc. (the “Casino”) had wrongfully terminated an at-will employee for reporting his illegally managed poker room. The Supreme Court, however, refused to apply an exception to the employment-at-will doctrine because the employee had willingly participated in the allegedly illegal activity.

We covered the previous Court of Appeals opinion on August 28, 2014, and here is the new Supreme Court opinion reversing the Court of Appeals.

Mr. Galle had worked as a poker room manager, which is a key position requiring a “Key Employee License.”  However, Mr. Galle had failed to disclose a prior arrest and was denied the license and demoted. When the Casino issued new identification badges, Mr. Galle’s badge indicated that he was a poker room manager. Although Mr. Galle reported this issue, he was told to wear the badge, and he failed to take any additional steps to get a new badge. After a Gaming Commission agent noticed Galle’s badge, an investigation ensued, which revealed that Mr. Galle was illegally acting as a manager, and disciplinary action was threatened if he was not removed from the position. A month later, Mr. Galle was discharged for “failure to execute a directive in an effective manner,” and he sued for wrongful termination and a variety of other claims.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Casino on the grounds that Mr. Galle was an at-will employee, meaning that he could be fired for a good reason, bad reason or no reason at all. Mississippi is an employment-at-will state. However, there is a narrow public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine where the employee was discharged for refusing to participate or for reporting an illegal activity. On appeal, the Court of Appeals found that fact issues precluded summary judgment on the application of the McArn exception.

The Casino then appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court, which denied the application of the McArn exception because Mr. Galle willingly participated in the illegal activity. The Supreme Court found that although Mr. Galle had reported the badge issue, he willingly abided by the Casino’s instruction to manage the poker room and did not make any reports to the Gaming Commission until after he was caught. Such willing participation in an illegal activity bars the application of the McArn exception to the employment-at-will doctrine. The Casino was free to fire Mr. Galle despite the fact that he may have been conforming to the Casino’s directive to manage the poker room without a license.

The take away here remains that casino employers should not have employees doing work that they are not licensed to do. Nevertheless, if the employee willingly participates in illegal activity and does not blow the whistle on the casino until after he is caught, he cannot rely on the McArn exception if he is fired.

Lindsay Thomas Dowdle is an attorney in Jones Walker’s Labor and Employment Group in Jackson, MS, and can be reached at ldowdle@joneswalker.com or (601)949-4944.

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