The opinion of the court was delivered by: MARSH
In this diversity action, plaintiff, George G. McKinney, has sued his former employer, Armco Steel Corporation (Armco), alleging that he was arbitrarily discharged for a false reason, and that since such discharge he has been extensively damaged by defendant's conduct which has prevented and will prevent him from obtaining employment. In his complaint, plaintiff avers that after nearly 20 years of employment with Armco and its predecessor, he was summarily discharged by defendant without warning, without explanation, and without subsequent hearing; and that defendant has falsely informed prospective employers that his work was unsatisfactory. In an amended complaint plaintiff avers that defendant has refused and neglected to give recommendations or references, upon request, to plaintiff's agents, prospective employers and employment agencies "as is the custom in the industry and within the defendant corporation."
This is the second time defendant has moved for summary judgment. In denying the first motion, we said:
"In our judgment the record does not disclose admitted or established facts which conclusively refute the averments of the amended complaint to the effect that the defendant refused and neglected upon request to give recommendations as is the custom in the industry and within the defendant corporation, and because of defendant's neglect and refusal to provide references, the discharged plaintiff has been unable to obtain employment. Such averments seem to involve genuine issues of material facts which can only be resolved after a full hearing.
"From amended section 7 of the complaint (deemed to be admitted because undenied, Rule 9(d), Fed.R.Civ.P.), it appears that the defendant breached a custom to give recommendations upon the severance of employment. At trial it may be shown that the custom was certain, continuous, uniform and notorious; that the oral contract of employment was entered into with reference to it and in conformity with it. If it is established that the custom was part of the oral contract, the plaintiff may be entitled to damages for breach of contract. Restatement, Contracts, §§ 245, 246, 247."
Subsequently, pretrial procedure was concluded and affidavits were submitted on behalf of each party, and on this record, including the pleadings and plaintiff's deposition, defendant contends that it is entitled to judgment on the ground that there is no genuine issue of material fact. We agree.
Plaintiff's employment by defendant or its predecessor in 1945 was terminable at will (Pretrial Stipulation, p. 3, § III, 9; plaintiff's deposition, pp. 4-5). He was a non-union salaried employee. For such type of employment no authority has been cited which holds that a former employee is entitled to damages because his employer discharged him, even though the reason assigned, viz., "unsatisfactory performance", was false. Absent a contract of employment for a definite term or unless restrained by some labor union contract, an employer may discharge an employee at will, anytime, without cause or reason, or for any reason he believes justifies the discharge, even though the employee believes the reason to be false. In such cases no action for damages can be maintained for wrongful discharge. Jones v. Pittsburgh Mercantile Co., 295 Pa. 219, 145 A. 80 (1928); Henry v. Pittsburgh & L.E.R. Co., 139 Pa. 289, 297, 21 A. 157 (1891). Cf. Howe v. St. Louis Union Trust Company, 392 S.W.2d 625, 627 (Mo.1965). We do not understand plaintiff to controvert these principles.
At common law no duty is imposed upon an employer to give his discharged employee a letter of recommendation. See: Cleveland, C., C. & St. L. Ry. Co. v. Jenkins, 174 Ill. 398, 51 N.E. 811, 62 L.R.A. 922 (1898), and authorities therein cited; cf. Pond v. General Electric Company, 256 F.2d 824 (9th Cir. 1958). No Pennsylvania statute has been cited requiring a "service letter" upon discharge as exists in Missouri.
Thus, it is incumbent upon plaintiff to produce sufficient evidence to establish that a custom existed in 1945 - at the time of his employment by defendant or its predecessor - to provide a discharged employee with a recommendation or reference disclosing the true facts of his work record and explaining the true reason for his discharge; that such custom was incorporated in his contract of hiring; and that defendant breached the contract.
It appears that plaintiff will rely exclusively on his own testimony to prove that the custom existed at the time of his hiring. The defendant expects to present several witnesses to testify that no such custom has ever existed. To prove a case sufficient to submit to a jury, the plaintiff must present evidence of a certain, continuous, uniform and notorious custom to provide recommendations for discharged employees, which custom existed at the time he was hired in 1945 and which became part of the contract of hiring. Cleveland, C., C. & St. L. Ry. Co. v. Jenkins, supra; Traff v. Fabro, 337 Ill.App. 83, 84 N.E.2d 874 (Ill.1949); Moinester v. Wilson & Co., 36 F. Supp. 33 (S.D.N.Y.1940). It has been stated authoritatively that "it will generally be desirable when a particular usage is relied on, to establish it by the testimony of several witnesses; and if it be a well established usage, as it ought to be, this will not be difficult" Traff v. Fabro, supra, 84 N.E.2d p. 877. In order to sufficiently prove that the alleged custom was uniform and notorious at the time he was employed, it would be requisite that plaintiff submit evidence thereof other than his own testimony. Cf. Albus v. Toomey, 273 Pa. 303, 116 A. 917 (1922); Lancaster Transp. Co. v. New York & N.B. Auto Exp. Co., 187 Pa.Super. 621, 146 A.2d 150 (1958).
We think the record demonstrates conclusively that the plaintiff has no witnesses to prove the existence of the alleged custom in 1945, and a trial is unnecessary. See: Transcript of January 6, 1967, pp. 14 et seq., and affidavits of plaintiff's witnesses relating to custom. Without a contractual or statutory duty on the part of defendant to detail truthfully plaintiff's virtues or shortcomings as a former employee, his case fails. Cf. Pond v. General Electric Company, supra, 256 F.2d pp. 827-828.