South Carolina is an at-will employment state and does not recognize a claim for “negligent separation.” The trial court should not have submitted such a claim to the jury based on a fire chief’s request for an assistant chief’s resignation.
We reverse the $65,000 judgment for plaintiff.
Plaintiff was employed by the defendant-city’s fire department as the assistant chief of administration. He believed his responses to a confidential survey about the fire chief were not kept confidential, and the chief admitted he could “figure out” some things. However, plaintiff was asked for (and provided) his resignation after buying gloves for the department based on an outdated field test. The gloves bore the inscription, “not meant for firefighting.”
No cause of action exists for negligent in termination of employment.
Here, as in Gause v. Doe, 317 S.C. 39, 451 S.E.2d 408 (Ct. App. 1994), plaintiff did not allege he was anything other than an at-will employee. Regardless of how plaintiff framed his negligence claim, the gravamen of his allegations was that the city was negligent for allowing his supervisor to request his resignation, effectively terminating his employment.
As plaintiff acknowledged, the alleged breach was allowing the chief to force his resignation. No authority suggests the city had a duty to ensure the fire department continued to employ Edmonds. Based on Gause, we conclude plaintiff failed to set forth a claim of negligence as a matter of law.
Sabb v. S.C. State Univ., 350 S.C. 416, 429, 567 S.E.2d 231, 237 (2002), is distinguishable. In Sabb, for instance, after the plaintiff complained about her supervisor, the supervisor tried to fight her, making her fear for her life.
Here, plaintiff testified only that he felt he had no face-to-face interactions with the chief and he was only able to communicate with him by phone. He did not allege this behavior caused him any distress. Rather, he alleged the “injuries” he suffered resulted from his forced resignation. We conclude Sabb is distinguishable from Gause and did not affect its holding. Thus, Sabb does not support a claim for negligence in terminating one’s employment.
Edmonds v. City of Columbia (Lawyers Weekly No. 012-014-23, 9 pp.) (Per Curiam) Appealed from Richland County Circuit Court (Daniel Dewitt Hall, J.) Chad Nicholas Johnston and Dana Thye for appellant; James Paul Porter for respondent. South Carolina Court of Appeals (unpublished)