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Oral argument set for Sept. 23 during State Bar Annual Meeting

The Montana Supreme Court will hear an oral argument at the State Bar of Montana’s Annual Meeting in September in an appeal of a summary judgment in a wrongful discharge case.

Oral argument in Charles Daniel Smith, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Charter Communications, Inc., Defendant and Appellee, is set for Friday, September 23, 2022, at 9:30 a.m. at the Delta Hotels Helena Colonial in Helena, with an introduction to the oral argument beginning at 9:00 a.m.

In 2016, Charles Daniel Smith became a vice president at Charter Communications, Inc. His job duties required him to travel to certain sites on a quarterly basis. In July 2017, Smith took medical leave, returning to work in November 2017. In January 2018, Charter fired him. In its discharge letter, Charter claimed that Smith failed to fulfill his job’s 50% travel requirement.

Smith sued under Montana’s Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act. Charter moved for summary judgment. A federal district judge determined that it was unclear if Smith’s job had a 50% travel requirement. However, the judge determined that it was clear Smith had failed to meet the quarterly travel requirement and thus granted judgment in Charter’s favor.

Smith appealed to the Ninth Circuit, arguing it was improper for the court to consider his failure to meet the quarterly travel requirement since Charter did not list that as a basis for termination in its discharge letter. Smith argued that in 1995, the Montana Supreme Court held that an employer may only rely upon the reasons it gave in the discharge letter to defend itself in a wrongful discharge case.

However, in 1999, the Montana Legislature amended the WDEA so that it no longer requires employers to provide a full and complete statement of the reason for discharge. Because of the change in the law, the Ninth Circuit certified the following question to the Montana Supreme Court: Whether, in an action for wrongful discharge pursuant to Montana Code Annotated section 39-2-904, an employer may defend a termination solely for the reasons given in a discharge letter, as the court held in Galbreath v. Golden Sunlight Mines, Inc., 890 P.2d 382 (Mont. 1995), or whether the 1999 statutory amendments have superseded the Galbreath rule.

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