Court holds Wal-Mart can fire employees who file for unemployment benefits and failing to return from leave of absence can be deemed "voluntary quit."
William Barrington sued Wal-Mart, his employer, alleging the retail giant fired him after he filed for unemployment benefits during a leave of absence. Barrington argued that firing someone under these circumstances (i.e., for pursuing a legally-established entitlement right) was a violation of public policy. The Grand Rapids District Judge for the Western District of Michigan upheld the firing, as did the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Barrington had taken an approved leave of absence that was to end on April 30. On that day, however, Barrington was unable to return to work: he was informed that under the circumstances he must file additional paperwork confirming his inability to return, and he did. Three days later, however, he was summoned to the store and fired--but with an internal recommendation that he be re-hired. He then applied for unemployment benefits, but WalMart objected, claiming that Barrington voluntarily quit his jobBarrington sought reinstatement, and although a number of new employees were hired with his qualifications, he was not re-hired. He sued, alleging that his termination was made "permanent" because he contested his right to unemployment benefits. The Court noted that he was an "at will" employee and refused to recognize a claim against his employer -- even if it was punishing him for exercising a legal right.