Just Ask Gonzo: Updating old cases

Steve Gonzalez Dec. 28, 2005, 4:03pm

Q: I was wondering if you could tell me the status of the suit involving the one-armed Dobbs Tire shuttle driver, and the man fired for hiring him (Record 6/13/05). Right before Christmas last year the man gave me a ride while my car was being serviced, and I was just curious. Thanks for your time.

Elmer Watkins
Glen Carbon

This case was removed from Madison County Circuit Court on July 12, to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois where it remains.

Oliver Souffle, the former manager of the Edwardsville Dobbs Tire & Auto Center filed a retaliatory discharge and Whistleblower Act lawsuit claiming he was terminated for hiring a one-handed shuttle driver.

In the suit filed June 10 in Madison County Circuit Court, Oliver Souffle is seeking at least $250,000 in compensatory and punitive damages from Dobbs which he claims breached its contract that allowed him to work "as long as you wish...for this firm."

Souffle was fired Feb. 14, 2005.

He claims his supervisor criticized him for hiring a physically impaired person and stated that if the company fired the employee with only one hand, Dobbs might be in legal trouble.

"We would face a lawsuit," Souffle claims his supervisor told him in December 2004.

Even though he hired a one-handed man for the shuttle driver position, Souffle claims he was capable of driving.

Souffle claims his supervisors and managers encouraged him to discriminate against the shuttle driver by cutting his hours. However, Souffle made it clear that he did not plan to engage in illegal employment practices.

Souffle claims that the Illinois Whistleblower Act makes it illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee for the employee's refusal to participate in an activity that would result in violation of state and federal laws.

According to the complaint, Souffle has suffered lost wages, loss of benefits, emotional distress, humiliation, embarrassment and pain and suffering.

Souffle claims at the time of his dismissal he was earning $84,000 annually and additional compensation in the form of a trip to Mexico, plus other bonuses.

He is represented by Lee Baron of Alton.

Jonathan F. Andres of Clayton, who represents Dobbs, filed a motion to dismiss on July 17. In the motion he wrote, "Souffle has failed to allege a valid claim for retaliatory discharge, and under the clear the restriction espoused by the Illinois Supreme Court in Metzger and Fisher, supra, his claim for retaliatory discharge should be dismissed."

However, on Nov. 15, District Judge Patrick Murphy denied the motion to dismiss.

In his order Murphy wrote, "A motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of the complaint and not the merits of the suit. Therefore, the court accepts as true all factual allegations contained in the plaintiff's pleadings and draws all reasonable inferences in his favor."

Murphy also wrote, "The fact that it states that Plaintiff is offered gainful employment 'as long as' he wishes to work with Defendant is not a provision of indefinite duration. Rather, a jury could conclude that Defendant promised Plaintiff a job in some capacity for as long as Plaintiff would accept such position. The language used by Defendant is sufficiently clear and definite such that it is not terminable at will."

"The contract language is clear and unambiguous. For the foregoing reasons, this contract is not terminable at will as a matter of law. Defendant drafted this contract and cannot now argue that it did not intend for it to say what it says."

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