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Quote of the Day - The individual must not merely wait and criticize, he must defend the cause the best he can. The fate of the world will be such as the world deserves. - Albert Einstein
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An At-Will Employment Contract Or A Promise Not To Terminate For Cause?

You Can't Have It Both Ways

The Salvation Army employed Arthur Stillwell back in 1962 until about 1977, and then on and off through the eighties, when it hired him back full-time in 1997 until it terminated him in 2003.  When it hired him back, the Army provided a written agreement to Stillwell that contained an "at will" clause, which allowed the Army to terminate him without cause. 

Because of Stilwell's long employment, he alleged that the Army had promised him it would not terminate him without cause.  During his trial, he was able to introduce that evidence with enough success to convince a jury.

Trouble is, however, you can't have it both ways.  Either you have a written contract or an equitable contract.  It goes to one of the most basic divisions in the law:  tort and contract.  With few exceptions, you can't recover a tort claim and a contract claim based on the same set of facts. 

Unfortunately for both Stillwell and the Army, the jury awarded him both tort and contract recovery when it gave him a little over $158,000 in damages.  Now don't get too excited here and think my choice of "unfortunately" was imprudent.  Read on.  The Army convinced the judge to overrule the jury's verdict and grant a defense verdict, with no damages, so Stilwell appealed.  Now you see at least one side was unhappy with the result. 

The Court of Appeal reversed that decision and ordered the court to hold a new trial.  This time, hopefully, the court and the lawyers will make the jury questionnaire more definitive, and set it up so it allows only one decision:  written contract or implied contract.  See why I used "unfortunately?"  They both lost. 

If only the Army would have had a modification clause that prevented others in the Army from making promises contrary to the terms of the written employment agreement.  Do you think they need a good lawyer?

Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Wednesday, October 08, 2008 at 21:01 Comments Closed (0) |
 
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