Independent Contractor’s Claims for Wrongful Discharge in Violation of Public Policy and Tortious Interference Fail

Facts of Case

Bishop & Associates, LLC (“B&A”) is a plumbing contractor that provided plumbing services to Ameren Corporation. B&A provided the services as an  independent contractor. Either party could terminate the independent contractor agreement on 30 days written notice.  In performing its duties, B&A prepared reports that identified potential environmental contamination issues at Ameren’s properties.

B&A and Ameren’s arrangements changed over time. Eventually, Ameren sent B&A correspondence to the effect that it should not perform any maintenance without first getting permission from Ameren’s superintendent of building services. Eventually, Ameren terminated its agreement with B&A.

B&A filed suit against Ameren and some if its supervisors alleging, among other things, the Ameren’s termination violet the public policy exception to the termination of employment relationships and tortious interference with a business expectancy. B&A contended the termination was based upon the the reports of environmental and public safety hazards. This post deals only with the public policy and tortious interference claims.

The Trial Court Ruling

The Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis entered summary judgment in favor of Ameren on all of B&A’s claims. A trial court enters summary judgment when it finds the claims fail as a matter of law. B&A appealed.

The Ruling on Appeal

Missouri follows the at-will employment doctrine. At-will employees can be terminated for any or no reason. One exception to this general rule is the termination of an employee for a reason that violates public policy. If that occurs, the employee may have a cause of action for wrongful discharge. An employee’s termination is in violation of public policy if the termination is for the refusal “to violate the law or any well-established and clear mandate of public policy as expressed in the constitution, statutes, regulations promulgated pursuant too statute, or rules created by a governmental body” or “for reporting wrongdoing or violation of law to superiors or public authorities.” This exception has been extended to contract employees, but not to independent contractors. Because of this, B&A’s claim of wrongful discharge failed.

The claim of tortious interference with a business expectancy also failed. B&A asserted this claim against Ameren’s supervisors. To prove such a claim, B&A needed to prove: (1) a contract or valid business expectancy; (2) the supervisors’ knew of the contract or relationship; (3) Ameren’s breach of the contract was caused or induced by the supervisors; (4) absence of justification; and (5) damages. In this case, the issue hinged on whether the supervisors had a justification for terminating the contract. B&A needed to prove the the supervisors used improper means to interfere with the contract and they did this to further only their interests.

B&A presented evidence that it contended showed the supervisors did not like the B&A employee who did most of the work under the contract. However, the supervisors’ dislike of the employee was not enough. This was not evidence the supervisors acted only  in their interest, as opposed to Ameren’s interest. Consequently, B&A’s claim failed.


In this case, the Missouri Supreme Court followed the majority of other jurisdictions in refusing the extend the public policy exception to the termination of “employment” contracts to contracts with independent contractors. This provides a layer of protection to the person contracting with an independent contractor. It provides anther reason for employers to consider an independent contractor arrangement where possible.

The Court also appears to hold that, to prevail on a claim of tortious interference with a business expectancy, the plaintiff must prove the defendant acted solely in its self-interest. Thus, it would appear that, if the defendant can show any reason for its actions that is not in its self-interest, the defendant should prevail.

The full opinion is here.