The Ohio Supreme Court ruled Tuesday against a probationary civil service employee who attempted to sue the state for wrongful discharge.
The suit was brought by James Miracle, a former employee of both the Mansfield Correctional Institution and the Ohio Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Miracle was a building construction superintendent at Mansfield Correctional Institution in 2013 when an inmate escaped the facility. During the investigation of that incident, it was revealed that Miracle had been improperly securing tools and had falsified tool inventory documents. The Mansfield Correctional Institution terminated Miracle but then settled his appeal by placing him in a new job with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
Miracle then alleged that he was fired for political reasons relating to the 2013 incident and that such firing goes against public policy codified in Chapter 124 of the Ohio Revised Code. Ohio has long been an at-will employment state where employees may be terminated for any reason or none, but there is an exception for tenured civil service employees, which only allows their termination in the event of “incompetency,” “inefficiency,” “neglect of duty” or “unsatisfactory performance.” Miracle argued that the legislative intent in Chapter 124 relating to probationary employees clearly showed a desire to maintain probationary employees unless they failed in one of these same categories. Miracle went on to argue that probationary employees should then be entitled to the same wrongful discharge tort allowed for tenured employees.
The court reviewed the sections and ultimately concluded that probationary employees are not subject to the same termination restrictions as tenured employees. The court concluded that probationary employees are not entitled to appeal their termination and that granting them a civil tort claim would elevate them to a status equal to tenured employees. One of the concurring opinions wrote separately to argue the majority opinion should not be read to foreclose all possibility of a wrongful discharge tort claim by a probationary employee if it violates another part of the statutory scheme.