Rivera v. National R.R. Passenger Corp., 331 F.3d 1074 (9th Cir. 2003)

After John Rivera, who worked for Amtrak as a night watchman, threatened to “blow people away” in Amtrak’s San Jose office, the local police went to his home and found drugs, drug paraphernalia and an unregistered assault rifle with ammunition. Rivera was terminated shortly thereafter for falsification of a timecard, violation of Amtrak’s attendance policy and threatening co-workers with bodily harm. In his subsequent lawsuit against Amtrak, Rivera alleged that he was terminated in violation of public policy. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s order granting summary judgment to Amtrak on the public policy claim on the ground that there was no evidence that Rivera had ever reported his supervisor’s allegedly illegal conduct (involving the alleged use and sale of drugs and stealing and reselling Amtrak parts) to anyone at Amtrak or that the individuals who made the decision to terminate Rivera had knowledge of any illegal activities at Amtrak. Further, even if Rivera had reported the illegal conduct, such a report would not implicate a sufficient public policy as to support a claim. The Court reversed the dismissal of Rivera’s defamation claim on the ground that certain defamatory statements may have been made within the scope of the Amtrak employees’ employment and, therefore, Amtrak was not necessarily shielded from liability under the doctrine of respondeat superior.