IBM Engineer Loses Illegal Firing Appeal

October 9, 2006 ( - In unusually curt terms, a federal appeals court has upheld a lower court ruling denying allegations by a former IBM senior engineer that he was effectively fired for complaining about overtime cutbacks.

In fact, in denying plaintiff Michael Saville’s contention that IBM forced him out of the company, the 10 th US Circuit Court of Appeals took the unusual step of handing down the appellate decision without hearing the traditional round of oral arguments first.

After getting complaints about his work, according to the opinion, Saville’s supervisors gave him the choice of being placed on a performance improvement plan or retiring from IBM with a severance package. In October 1998, Saville notified the company that he had chosen to retire, effective the following day.

In August 2000, Saville filed his wrongful discharge suit against IBM under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), alleging that he was constructively discharged for “voic[ing] his concerns regarding IBM’s practices in recording and paying overtime.”

A federal judge in the US District Court for the District of Utah threw out Saville’s case and he appealed to the 10 th Circuit.

Circuit Judge Mary Beck Briscoe, in writing for the appellate court, asserted that Saville’s legal case failed because he had not shown that he was the target of a wrongful “adverse employment action.”

“Saville’s retirement from IBM would qualify as an adverse action only if IBM deliberately made or allowed Saville’s working conditions to become so intolerable that he had no other choice but to retire,” Briscoe wrote. “In other words, Saville’s retirement would have to amount to a constructive discharge, and would depend upon whether a reasonable person would view the conditions at IBM as intolerable, not upon Saville’s subjective view of those conditions. We agree with the district court that no reasonable jury could find these conditions so intolerable as to render Saville’s retirement involuntary. The inquiry is not whether the conditions at IBM were “difficult or unpleasant,” but whether, at the time of Saville’s retirement, IBM did not allow him “the opportunity to make a free choice regarding his employment relationship.”

The appellate decision in Saville v. International Business Machines Corp.,10th Cir. June 21, 2006. is  here.