Court of Appeals of Arkansas, DIVISIONS I, II, III
FROM THE BENTON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 04CV-18-421]
HONORABLE JOHN R. SCOTT, JUDGE.
Pinnacle Law Group, by: Matthew A. Kezhaya, for appellants.
Rock LLP, by: Scott Jackson and Bailey Knapp, for appellee.
BRANDON J. HARRISON, JUDGE.
first issue is whether Jessica McCabe and Amy Purdy can
bridge the moat that is the at-will employment doctrine and
go forward on their complaint against Wal-Mart Associates,
Inc. McCabe and Purdy sued their former employer under two
legal theories while alleging that their employment was
terminated for an improper reason-meaning they were
wrongfully discharged. The Benton County Circuit Court
dismissed the complaint against Walmart under Arkansas Rule
of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (2019). The court accepted the
company's argument that McCabe and Purdy had failed to
state viable claims for relief given the specific allegations
and the contours of the at-will employment doctrine.
dismissal segues to the second point on appeal. After the
dismissal, on Walmart's motion and in the face of the
plaintiffs' written opposition, the circuit court ordered
McCabe and Purdy to pay Walmart a $13, 685 attorney fee.
novo review, we affirm the dismissal of the entire complaint
with prejudice.But we reverse and remand on the fee issue
because the court abused its discretion by awarding a
substantial fee given the record and the law.
McCabe and Purdy's Complaint
Walmart's Policies 
and Purdy alleged in the circuit court that they had an
employment contract with Walmart whose terms were stated in
the company's employment policies. They also alleged,
among other things, that Walmart violated its open-door
policy when it terminated their employment and thereby
breached the company's promise to refrain from
retaliating against an employee who used the policy.
to Arkansas Rule of Civil Procedure 10(c), Walmart attached
copies of the policies at issue to its motion to dismiss.
Each policy contains this language:
This information does not create an express or implied
contract of employment or any other contractual commitment.
Walmart may modify this information at its sole discretion
without notice, at any time, consistent with applicable law.
Employment with Walmart is on an at-will basis, which means
that either Walmart or the associate is free to terminate the
employment relationship at any time for any or no reason,
consistent with applicable law.
written open-door policy-which also contains the language
just quoted- encourages employees to report "ideas,
suggestions, and concerns" to anyone in the company. The
open-door policy also states:
Retaliation for initiating an open door communication or
cooperating in a review relating to any open door
communication, is strictly prohibited. Any associate who
retaliates against another associate for initiating or
cooperating in an open door review will be subject to
disciplinary action, up to and including termination.
is more. Walmart's Global Statement of Ethics
contains a statement to "Speak up for good" and
encourages employees to "[u]se the Open Door
Communications process." "It's important for
each of us to create a work environment where everyone can
raise concerns of ethics issues without fear of
retaliation." Walmart also states the following in its
Global Statement of Ethics:
Walmart will not terminate, demote or otherwise discriminate
against associates for raising concerns. Also, it is
important for co-workers not to isolate associates who have
raised concerns-such associates should be treated with
respect. Any change in treatment toward an associate who has
raised a concern could be seen as a form of retaliation.
Global Statement contains this at-will language:
This Statement of Ethics provides an introduction to the
responsibilities of all associates, along with an overview of
certain important policies. It's an important part of
your employment with Walmart; however, it's not intended
to create an express or implied contract of employment in and
of itself. It is also not inclusive of all applicable company
policies. . . . Employment with Walmart is on an at-will
basis-where permitted by law-meaning associates are free to
resign at any time for any or no reason. Violations of this
Statement of Ethics may result in disciplinary action up to
and including termination.
these policies in mind, we turn to McCabe and Purdy's
complaint, whose allegations are presumed true at the Rule
12(b)(6) stage. Ark. Dep't of Envtl. Quality v.
Brighton Corp., 352 Ark. 396, 102 S.W.3d 458 (2003).
Jessica McCabe's Case
viewed the facts alleged in her complaint as true, we
nonetheless hold that McCabe's two claims, one for
promissory estoppel (detrimental reliance) and ...