Workplace Intimidation Not Justice Obstruction: Va. High Court

March 11, 2002 ( - The Virginia Supreme Court has thrown out a lawsuit by a woman against her employer after a manager there allegedly assaulted her for pursuing charges the manager and other workers were embezzling.

Justices said Linda Rowan’s suit against Tractor Supply was improperly based on the notion that she was protected by Virginia’s obstruction of justice statute. She was fired in February 2000, allegedly for not dropping the embezzlement charges; her manager was later convicted of assault and battery, according to a National Journal report.

Rowan claimed the law should have protected her from intimidation while pressing criminal claims. Justices said instead the law was designed “to protect the public from a flawed legal system due to impaired prosecution of criminals.”

Rowan’s lawyer was openly critical of the ruling. “This is a lot of double talk,” said Terry Grimes of Roanoke, Va. “The goal of obstruction of justice, on its face, is to prevent intimidation. This is open season on crime victims trying to keep their jobs.”

Legislation Needed

However Tractor Supply’s counsel, James Johnson, said the decision was good because it clarified the law on employment rights under Rowan’s circumstances. If an employee such as Rowan is to be protected, Johnson said, the Virginia legislature would have to specifically provide it.

According to the report, the decision states that an employee must show one of three things, specifically that:

  • she was terminated for refusal to commit a crime
  • the employer violated a public policy explicitly stated in a statute and
  • the employee was a member of the class directly entitled to the protection enunciated by that policy, or that the employer violated a public policy implicit in a statute granting the employee a specific right to enforce that policy.

The court apparently concluded that Rowan’s claim did not fit into any of those categories by contrasting the difference between personal disputes and public interests.

The case is Rowan v. Tractor Supply Co., No. 011732.