Cunningham v. Anderson County (Lawyers Weekly No. 010-104-15, 9 pp.) (Kaye Hearn, J.) (Donald Beatty, J., joined by Jean Hoefer Toal, C.J., dissenting) Appealed from Anderson County Circuit Court (Alexander Macaulay, J.) On writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals. S.C. S. Ct.
Holding: Nothing prevented plaintiff from making alternative arguments based on whether he was deemed a contractual or an at-will employee; however, he failed to allege or argue at trial that he was an at-will employee. Therefore, he failed to preserve for appellate review his current argument that he was wrongfully discharged in violation of public policy.
We reverse the Court of Appeals’ decision and affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment for defendant.
(Beatty, J.) The complaint clearly sets forth a second cause of action entitled “Wrongful Discharge – Public Policy.” Throughout these proceedings, plaintiff has argued that the defendant-county had the right to terminate him at any time.
However, assuming plaintiff did not argue that he was an at-will employee, the issue is still preserved because of the necessary inference inherent in the claim itself. A wrongful discharge claim premised on the public policy exception necessarily implies that the plaintiff asserts the status of an at-will employee.
The county argued, and the trial judge agreed, that plaintiff’s contract, for a determined period of time, was void because it attempted to bind a future county council. By operation of law, plaintiff was an at-will employee at the time he was terminated. As such, his wrongful discharge claim, which was premised on a violation of public policy, survived and should be considered on the merits.