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Gerald K. Adams v Uno Restaurants, Inc

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Facts: On May 20, 1996, the plaintiff, who had been employed by the defendant for several years, arrived for his nighttime line cooking shift at the defendant’s Warwick restaurant. Shortly, after his shift began, the plaintiff noticed that the kitchen floor was saturated with a foul-smelling liquid coming from drains and backing up water onto the floor. He complained of illness and went home, at which time he contacted the Department of Health about the drainage problem in the restaurant’s kitchen. A Department of Health representative visited the restaurant that evening and noticed that the floor drains were backed up and that the floor was wet and slippery. She ordered the kitchen staff to dispose of all the food they had touched with their bare hands and closed the restaurant for the night, leaving instructions to sanitize the kitchen area and clear all the drains. She also inquired about which employee went home sick. The restaurant reopened the next day after sanitizing the kitchen. On May 22, 1996, two days after the incident, the plaintiff, who was not scheduled to work that day, returned to the restaurant curious to determine whether there was any hostility toward him resulting from his having called the Department of Health. The plaintiff testified that he was summarily ordered by David Badot, the restaurant’s manager, to come into his office and that Badot proceeded to shout at him while inquiring whether he had contacted the Department of Health. The plaintiff testified that he shouted back at Badot and acknowledged that he had indeed called Department of Health.

Badot then accused the plaintiff of stealing one of the defendant’s softball team shirts and of taking a work schedule home. Badot then left his office, and the plaintiff followed him out into the general cooking area, where other employees were present. The shouting match between Badot and the plaintiff continued and in the course thereof, the plaintiff told Badot that he “was going to follow him back to Massachusetts on this, and (he) was going to blow the intelligence out of his head.” The plaintiff then left the restaurant. Badot claimed to have perceived the plaintiff’s words as threatening and instructed an employee to call the police. When the plaintiff later heard that the police were looking for him, he voluntary went to the Warwick police station, whereupon he was then charged with disorderly conduct, arraigned, and pled not guilty. No trail on the charge ensued. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiff commenced this civil action against the defendant alleging therein that he had been unlawfully terminated only because he had notified the Department of Health regarding the unsanitary kitchen conditions existing at the defendant’s Warwick Pizzeria Uno Restaurant & Bar. The jury’s verdict was in favor of Adams for $7500. Uno Restaurants Inc. then filed a motion for judgment N.O.V. as matter of law, arguing that Adams had been fired for threatening Badot.

Issue: Should the court grant the motion in this case? The point of law is Motion for Judgment N.O.V.

Decision: No. The state supreme court explained, “When considering such a motion, the trail justice examines the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving, without weighing the evidence or evaluating the credibility of witnesses, and draws from the records all reasonable inferences that support the position of the nonmoving party. If, after such a review, there remain factual issues upon which reasonable persons might draw different conclusions, the motion for judgment as a matter of law must be denied.” In this case, “after examining the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the trail justice decided that a reasonable jury could have found that Badot’s actions in badgering the plaintiff and then having him arrested were a pretext for retaliating against the plaintiff for having called in the Department of Health.

Reason: The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, Gerald K. Adams, finding that the defendant, Uno Restaurant, Inc. had wrongfully terminated the plaintiff’s employment in violation of the Whistleblowers’ Protection Act Chapter 50 motion for judgment as a matter of law, upon which decision had been reserved, denied the defendant’s motion, upheld the jury’s finding on the defendant’s liability, but set aside the jury’s award of damages to the plaintiff.

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