Robert Mikles was the Police Chief for the City of Huntington, Arkansas. Mikles, a man in his late 50s, was looking for a job when his wife found an advertisement seeking a Chief of Police in Huntington. Mikles met with the mayor, who offered him a job. In the negotiations over compensation, the mayor stated that he could not offer the per-hour rate that Mikles requested, but that he could offer the use of a City vehicle for Mikles’ 80-mile round-trip commute. Mikles accepted, and began work as Police Chief.
Months later, the City Council voted to take the City car privileges away from Mikles. Mikles was present at the meeting, and had to get a ride home because the Council’s action took effect immediately. Mikles then sued the City, alleging a breach of contract.
Six months after Mikles filed his lawsuit, the City terminated him. Mikles then amended his lawsuit alleging that the City’s actions constituted “wrongful termination” in retaliation for his filing of a lawsuit.
When a jury ruled in Mikles’ favor, the City appealed. The Arkansas Court of Appeals upheld the jury’s wrongful termination verdict.
Under Arkansas law, an employer does not have the right to fire even an “at-will” employee for an act “done for the good of the public.” The Court noted that the filing of a lawsuit alleging that a governmental body breached a contract could easily be perceived as an act done “for the good of the public.”
The Court concluded that “the City argues that there is ample evidence of reasons for Mikles being terminated, unrelating to his filing the lawsuit. However, this is not the focus of appellate inquiry. We determine whether there was substantial evidence upon which a jury could base a decision that the reason for Mikles’ termination was because he filed a lawsuit against the City. There was such substantial evidence, and therefore we affirm this point.”
City of Huntington v. Mikles, 2006 WL 2741877 (Ark.App. 2006).
This article appears in the November 2006 issue