On September 17th, 2015 the Utah Supreme Court addressed a case wherein a group of Wal-Mart employees were fired because they did not follow the Wal-Mart Company’s non-resistance policy when they were faced with potential imminent violence from a customer.
Five different employees, in two separate incidents, violated company policy when they heroically handled death threats and potentially violent confrontations.
In the first incident, two employees disarmed a shoplifter, who after being detained, pulled a pocket knife and threatened to stab them if they didn’t let her go. In the second incident, the other group of employees detained a man hiding a laptop computer in his pants. While in the store office, the man made a threat then pulled a gun, ultimately shoving one of the employees against a wall and putting the gun at the employees back. The employees were able to pin the man against a wall and take his gun away. For their heroic action in doing their job and protecting Wal-Mart’s interests, the employees were fired by Wal-Mart for violating a company policy which requires its workers to withdraw from any potentially violent confrontation and call the police.
The employees sued Wal-Mart in federal court for wrongful termination, arguing that Utah, where they were employed, provides a constitutional right of self-defense and that their right to defend themselves when faced with a situation of imminent bodily harm where they cannot withdraw from the potential violence, trumped the employers policy of withdrawal from confrontation. The case went to the Utah Supreme Court to make the determination of whether the right of self-defense is a substantial public policy that provides an exception to the employment doctrine which allowed Wal-Mart to fire the employees for any reason not prohibited by law. Chief Justice Matthew Durrant of the Utah Supreme Court acknowledged Wal-Mart’s interest in regulating its workforce, acknowledged that as an at-will employer, Wal-Mart can fire any employee for any reason not prohibited by law, but found that the right of self-defense is an exception to the at-will employment doctrine and stated that where an employee reasonably believes that force is necessary to defend against an imminent threat of serious bodily harm with no opportunity to withdraw, the right to defend oneself outweighs the at-will employment doctrine. Wal-Mart could not fire the employees for this reason.
What a great country we live in. Utah has decided that, even at work where you are subject to your employers will, you still have the right to make the decision to defend your life. If we believe in anything, shouldn’t we believe that the right to defend yourself – the right of self-preservation – trumps all other rights? I have always been an advocate of the right to self-defense. I live my life by a code in which I attempt to provide civility to all I meet, but if I feel that my life or my family’s lives are in imminent danger, then shouldn’t I have the right to defend myself with every option available… including deadly force? And isn’t it the individual, faced with the attack and its consequences, that has the right to make that decision and live with the consequence of their action? The law is very similar in Florida which will be the subject of another blog.
As a personal injury lawyer in Melbourne Florida, but also a citizen of the United States, I applaud the findings of the Utah Supreme Court and the right of each individual to make the decision to run or to fight and to live with the consequences of their actions.
Clay Morgan, Brevard County Attorney, Morgan and Barbary