Legal Ethics

Judge Tosses Suit by Associate Claiming He Was Fired for Rejecting PI Firm's Unethical Demand

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A federal judge has dismissed a suit by an associate who claims he was fired from his personal injury law firm for refusing to participate in an unethical referral scheme.

An illegal discharge claim can’t be premised on a violation of legal ethics rules, according to the Dec. 29 opinion by Judge John Heyburn II of Louisville, Ky. The ABA/BNA Lawyers’ Manual on Professional Conduct summarizes the decision.

The associate, Anthony Gadlage, had alleged he was fired from Winters & Yonker in Louisville because he refused to send clients to a chiropractor’s medical clinics in exchange for referrals. Gadlage says he disliked sending clients to the clinics because insurers were more reluctant to settle those claims.

Heyburn said the allegations did not support a claim of illegal discharge. Employees in Kentucky can be fired at will, and the state allows a public policy exception based only on constitutional or statutory provisions, he said.

Gadlage had said his firing violated the public policy against lawyer conflicts of interest expressed in Kentucky Supreme Court rules. But a public policy from a court rule is insufficient to support a wrongful discharge claim in Kentucky, Heyburn said.

“This is not a pretty business that Mr. Gadlage has seen and fought against in his own way,” Heyburn wrote. “Unfortunately, Kentucky does not afford him a legal remedy in these circumstances.”

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