Labor Law Movie Review: Robocop

Let me begin by refusing to apologize for what I’m about to type — Robocop is a great movie.  It is violent and vulgar at several points but not so much so by today’s standards.  It is set in a future version of Detroit in which crime is rampant and the city is seeking the assistance of a private corporation to provide robotic police officers.  After a policeman is gunned down by a drug gang and left for dead, he is transformed by the corporation into a half man, half machine peace officer – the titular Robocop.  Guided by three programmed directives (1. Serve the public trust; 2. Protect the innocent; and 3. Uphold the law) and armed with an exceptionally large handgun, he makes short work of violent criminals and causes the rest of the police force to worry about job security.  Of course, all is not well.  Robocop begins to recall his prior human existence and there is the matter of his secret fourth directive. 

You’ve probably seen at least some of Robocop as it is often rerun on cable networks.  Perhaps you were too distracted by the shiny mechanical man and the dystopian future to notice that not one but two critical plot points involve labor and employment law issues.  First, a police strike sends the city into chaos.  There is not much in the plot to analyze from a legal standpoint.  Generally, strikes by public employees are illegal in Michigan but that does not mean they cannot happen, particularly in a grim dystopian future. 

The more important employment law moment occurs in the climatic final scene of the film and involves the termination of the employment of one of the film’s main characters.  In Michigan, employees are presumed to be “at will,” meaning that they may be terminated for any reason, so long as it is not illegal.  Some may quibble that the character in question would likely have had an employment agreement with a clause governing termination but there is no evidence of this in the film and, therefore, the presumption of at-will employment must stand.  Thus, the film is not only entertaining but accurate in its depiction of labor and employment law. 

Labor Law Content **** (out of five)

Labor Law Accuracy *****  (out of five)

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