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Employment Law:

According to the facts of the case, the dismissal of Captain Ahab by Sabine

Shipping Company Inc is clearly in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment

Act and a prime example of a wrongful discharge. As you will see, the actions leading up

to his firing and the unwarranted allegations made in regards to his age and performance

clearly lend themselves to violations in employment law.

According to the United States Department of Labor, the Age Discrimination in

Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) “protects certain applicants and employees 40 years of

age and older from discrimination on the basis of age in hiring, promotion, discharge,

compensation, or terms, conditions or privileges of employment”

(http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/discrimination/agedisc.htm). One of the most common

forms of defense for a company in an age discrimination case is to claim that the

employment action was for good cause and that “reasonable factors other than age”

(Mallor, Barnes, Bowers, Langvardt, pg 1331) were used in their decisions. Another form

of defense is to show that there is a bona fide occupational qualification, meaning that

the company must clearly show that the age qualification is necessary for the

performance of the job and the safety of the specific individual and others. In instances

where there is clearly a breach of the ADEA the plaintiff is often rewarded with unpaid

back wages or any other monies due resulting from the discrimination, liquidating

damages, attorney’s fees, and equitable relief such as hiring or reinstatement, and

promotion.

The second aspect of employment law that comes up in this case is wrongful

discharge. Wrongful discharge encompasses three common law exceptions to


employment at will; the public policy exception, the implied covenant of good faith and

fair dealing, and promises by employers. For the purpose of this case we will look

specifically at the most common basis for a wrongful discharge case, the public policy

exception. In public policy cases, the employee would argue that “his discharge was

unlawful because it violated the state’s public policy” (Mallor, Barnes, Bowers,

Langvardt, pg 1338). There are primarily three reasons for successful public policy cases

for wrongful discharge. The first is for an employee’s refusal to commit an unlawful act.

The second involves firing the employee for performing a public obligation and the third

is in regards to the employee exercising a legal right or privilege to do, or not to do

something.

In the court case of Stevenson v. Superior Court, the Supreme Court established

four requirements for a wrongful discharge on the basis of public policy. “First, the

policy must be supported by either constitutional or statutory provisions. Second, the

policy must be ‘public’ in the sense that it inures to the benefit of the public rather than

serving merely the interests of the individual. Third, the policy must have been

articulated at the time of the discharge. Fourth, the policy must be ‘fundamental’ and

‘substantial’” (Mallor, Barnes, Bowers, Langvardt, pg 1339).

Now that there is a basic understanding of age discrimination and wrongful

discharge lets quickly look rehash some of the pertinent details of the case. After two

years of practicing improper dumping methods at sea, Captain Ahab asks to have a

meeting with Mr. Big Bucks on behalf of the staff. At this meeting Captain Ahab

expresses his loyalty to the company, but explains that the illegal dumping that they have

been doing must come to a stop or he will be forced to contact the authorities and share
the records that he has kept of the illegal dumping. Soon after this meeting Captain Ahab

finds that his office was broken into and his computer was stolen. His desk at his home

was also broken into with documents being stolen. Then, lastly he receives a letter from

human resources stating that his age has been keeping him from performing up to par and

that the fact that he is not up to date with the latest technology is affecting his ability to

perform his duties. Furthermore, human resources claims that concerns had been raised

about his reaction time at the helm. With this, he is told that he must retire within two

weeks and that he will receive his retirement package and two weeks compensation.

With this knowledge we must ask ourselves if there is any violation in the ADEA

and if this case falls under the requirements of being a wrongful discharge. The answer is

unequivocally yes. To understand this we will take a look at the potential arguments of

both side, Captain Ahab, the plaintiff, and Sabine Shipping Company, the defendant.

Ultimately it is Sabine Shipping Company’s position that Captain Ahab is no

longer capable of performing his job up to the company’s standards. They have stated

that he is unable to keep up with technology and that he has exhibited poor reaction time,

which could endanger the safety of himself, his crew, the vessel and its cargo and those

around the vessel. Sabine will also likely argue that they forced him into retirement rather

then firing him as a favor to him and a “thank you” for his services rendered to the

company.

Captain Ahab would argue that he had been widely considered one of the best

captains in the fleet (as was stated in the case) and that he had never heard of any

allegations of him having a slow reaction time at the helm or that he was falling behind

the learning curve in regards to technology use. He could also argue that he was given his
two weeks notice without ever having any conversations with human resources or

management in regards to his performance levels and that any shortcoming that he had

were unbeknownst to him.

In regards to a wrongful discharge claim, Captain Ahab could argue that he had

been considered an outstanding employee up until the point that he met with Mr.

Bigbucks to demand that the illegal dumping be stopped. Additionally it is important that

he note that he was a victim of specifically targeted burglaries at both his home and office

shortly after this conversation.

Sabine Shipping’s defense on the grounds of wrongful discharge would first be

that the allegations of illegal dumping were false and that they were the rantings of a

disgruntled former employee. Second, they would argue that his termination was due to

his age and subsequent lack of performance and not due to any discussion that he may

have had with Mr. Bigbucks. They would argue that the timing of his talk with Mr.

Bigbucks and the subsequent burglaries and termination of employment were pure

coincidence.

The facts of the case clearly point to Sabine Shipping Company as being guilty of

both age discrimination and wrongful discharge. On the grounds of age discrimination

they had no evidence to back up their claims of Captain Ahab’s faltering performance. As

was stated above, Captain Ahab was considered one of the best captains in the fleet and

thus it would be difficult to see how his job rating could have dropped in such a short

amount of. Furthermore, it would be difficult for the court to understand why a company

would not provide notification of such a drop in performance to Captain Ahab, especially

if he had once been an outstanding employee. The fact that Sabine Shipping references
his age as being one of the determining factors in his termination requires them to make a

case for that proves his incompetence on the basis of his age, which they do not.

In regards to Captain Ahab’s wrongful discharge it is easy to see that Sabine

Shipping Company targeted him due to his unwillingness to perform an illegal act as well

as his threat to blow the whistle on past occurrences of illegal dumping. It was not until

after his meeting with Mr. Bigbucks that any concerns of his inability to perform his job

came about which would lead the court to believe that they were fabricated in order to

create a means in which to terminate Captain Ahab.

This situation clearly falls into the category of wrongful discharge based upon the

public policy exception outlined in our text, Business Law, in that he was fired for failing

to commit an unlawful act. As was discussed earlier, Sabine Shipping was clearly in

violation of environmental law and therefore in violation of public policies regarding

illegal dumping. Furthermore, the policy of illegal dumping meets each of the four

criteria used in the Stevenson v. Superior Court Supreme Court trial.

In conclusion, Sabine Shipping Company acted irrationally and in violation of

Employment Law on the basis of wrongful discharge and age discrimination towards

Captain Ahab. In their attempts to cover up their illegal environmental actions they only

further buried themselves in illegal activities and wrong doings. It is in Captain Ahab’s

best interest to take his case to trial in attempt to win appropriate compensation for his

unjust dismal.

References:
Mallor J. P., Barnes A. J., Bowers T., Langvardt A. W. Business Law: The Ethical,

Global, and E-Commerce Environment 14th Ed. New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill

Companies, Inc. 2010

United States Department of Labor. “Equal Employment Opportunity: Age

Discrimination.” United States Department of Labor. Web. 12 December 2009

http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/discrimination/agedisc.htm.