Ray v Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

Ray and other employees fired for not disengaging from shoplifting suspects who became violent sued in federal district court arguing wrongful termination. The district court certified a question to the Court asking if self-defense in circumstances where death or serious bodily injury is threatened and there is no time to retreat is a public policy which overcomes at will status. The Court, 4-1, answered yes. The majority held that the right to self-defense is clearly established in the Utah constitution, stand your ground and other self-defense statutes and in the case law of the state and that it is limited to preventing serious bodily injury and has a duty to retreat in some circumstances. The majority held that because the right of self-defense protects life and deters crime, particularly as it encompasses defense of third parties, it furthers the public good and is not only for the benefit of the individuals using it. The majority held that the limited self-defense policy outweighs employer’s interest in running their business on non-confrontation and deescalation as an employee should not be put to the choice of losing his job or suffering serious bodily injury. The majority rejected dissent arguments noting the right as described in the majority opinion accurately states the right and the facts assumed to be true were set out by the referring district court order as normal practice. The majority also noted that its decision was consistent with the most persuasive out of state case law. The dissent argued that the right to self-defense in the state constitution is too vague and aspirational to serve as the required public policy and eh right set out by the majority is not the right recognized in statute and case law; that self-defense does not further the public good as it merely makes legal what would otherwise be criminal and vigilantism at work is more likely to cause harm than prevent it; and the right as set out by the majority is not sufficiently weighty to overcome the employer’s de-escalation and non-confrontation as it is not a right of the employee as an employee and taking the power to judge reasonableness of the use of force interferes with employer’s existing rights. The dissent further argued that the majority decision will undermine workplace safety and will seriously impinge on the doctrine of at will employment and replace it with a judge made law of wrongful termination without any way to know what will be a prohibited ground to terminate.