Marsh v. Delta Air Lines, Inc.

952 F. Supp. 1458 (1997)

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Marsh v. Delta Air Lines, Inc.

United States District Court for the District of Colorado
952 F. Supp. 1458 (1997)

Facts

Michael Marsh (plaintiff) worked for Delta Air Lines, Inc. (Delta) (defendant) for 26 years. Marsh was a baggage handler at the time of his termination. Marsh was fired after the Denver Post published a letter Marsh submitted criticizing Delta. Marsh’s letter complained that Delta was replacing full-time employees who had been laid off with contract employees. Marsh alleged that Delta was infected with industrial diseases such as cost-cutting, and he lamented that customer service would suffer due to what he referred to as cheap contract helpers. Marsh called Delta arrogant and ignorant and stated the company had betrayed the loyalty of its 60,000 employees. Even though Delta had an internal grievance process whereby employees could call a toll-free number and report complaints without fear of reprisal, Marsh did not attempt to communicate with Delta using this procedure. After the letter was published, Marsh was suspended without pay and was later asked to resign, which he refused to do. Marsh then was terminated for behavior unacceptable for a Delta employee. Marsh appealed his termination to Delta management, but the appeal was denied. Marsh sued Delta, alleging wrongful discharge under Colorado’s wrongful-discharge statute, among other claims. Colorado law prohibited an employer from firing an employee based on the employee’s lawful activity outside of work hours and while off the employer’s property. However, there were three affirmative defenses or exceptions, which permitted termination for an employee’s lawful activity while off duty if (1) the employee’s activity related to a genuine occupational requirement or (2) related to the duties of a specific employee or a specific set of employees, or (3) termination was needed to prevent an actual or apparent conflict of interest with duties to the employer. Delta argued that Marsh’s termination was justified under each exception. Regarding a genuine occupational requirement, Delta argued that there was an implied duty of loyalty that Marsh owed Delta, which he had breached by submitting a letter for publication to the Denver Post that criticized Delta. Delta cited labor-law cases that established that disloyalty provided sufficient cause for termination. Marsh moved for partial summary judgment, and Delta filed a cross-motion for summary judgment.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Daniel, J.)

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