In Focus: New York State Judge Rejects Kesha’s Claims in Dr. Luke Case

At-will employment—or lack thereof—is central to case

By Allen Smith, J.D. Apr 12, 2016
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The New York State Supreme Court ruled against pop star Kesha on April 6 in her lawsuit versus producer Dr. Luke. Her failed claims included infliction of emotional distress, gender-based hate crimes and employment discrimination. The judge cited a lack of evidence and noted that since Kesha failed to plead that any of the alleged discrimination occurred in the state of New York, the court did not have jurisdiction.
(The New York Times)

Kesha’s Lawsuit Shows the Upside of At-Will Employment
Recording contracts make it much more difficult for celebrities to part ways than other employees. At-will employment allows either the employer or the employee to walk away from an employment relationship instantaneously. Kesha is bound by the provisions of a recording contract, and on Feb. 19 lost her motion for a preliminary injunction that would have blocked Sony and Dr. Luke from seeking damages if she released songs outside her contract.
(SHRM Online) 

Utah Supreme Court Holds Policy Manual Did Not Overcome At-Will Presumption
Often though employees allege that they are not employees at will, and that there was an employment contract. For example, in one case an employee maintained that a company’s employee manual created an implied contract because one of its policies stated that “tactical” workers were employees at will, but was silent as to “core” workers. The Supreme Court of Utah disagreed, however, ruling that the manual was merely silent as to the status of core employees. Silence was not enough to overcome the presumption of at-will employment.
(Binding the Law)

Alaska: PIP Does Not Modify At-Will Employment
And a performance improvement plan (PIP) did not alter an employee’s at-will status or spare him from termination, the Supreme Court of Alaska held. An employee sued his former employer, claiming his PIP had modified his at-will employee status. The PIP implied a promise of future employment in exchange for his demonstrated compliance, but the employer had unfairly prevented him from complying by firing him just days after the PIP was signed. But the PIP made no express promise of continued employment, the court found.

Md.: Agreement Interpreted as Providing Continuous For-Cause Employment
By contrast, the plain language of an employment agreement could only be interpreted as indicating that the parties reasonably expected and mutually assented to some degree of job security, the Court of Appeals of Maryland held in a separate case. It found that the agreement provided for “continuous for-cause employment.”
(Womble Carlyle)

Allen Smith, J.D., is the manager of workplace law content for SHRM. Follow him @SHRMlegaleditor.

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