Unusual legal issues arise when an attorney is wrongfully fired by a corporate employer. As Los Angeles wrongful termination employment attorneys, we have seen numerous cases of the conflict that can arise between a corporation who wants the right to terminate an attorney “at will” and the right of the attorney to file suit him or herself if the termination is wrongful. The seminal decision in California on this issue is General Dynamics Corporation vs. Superior Court. Here, an in house attorney was terminated and the court allowed the lawsuit to go forward, noting that “it is unlikely that the (corporation’s) undoubted power to discharge the attorney at will is one that can be invoked under all circumstances without consequence.” (7 Cal 4th at 1175). While noting that an attorney fired from his in-house job may sue, reinstatement is not an available remedy.
The court distinguished an earlier and famous case, Fracasse ve Brent, which allowed a client to fire an attorney without consequence. This was a traditional non-employer, attorney-client relationship However, the General Dynamics court saw the distinction between in hours attorneys virtually dependent on the good will and confidence of a single employer to provide livelihood and carer success and an outside attorney in private practice with multiple clients.
Whistle blower attorneys in Los Angeles should be able to pursue a claim of retaliatory discharge. The rub comes when the ethical obligation of the attorney to protect his client’s secrets at all costs comes into play. The court found that where the elements of a wrongful discharge in violation of public policy can’t be established without breached the attorney-client privilege, then the suit must be dismissed in the interest of preserving the attorney client privilege. (at 1182).
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