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ROGERS v. IBM

November 13, 1980

John F. ROGERS, Plaintiff,
v.
INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS MACHINES CORPORATION, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ZIEGLER

MEMORANDUM

I. History of Case

 John F. Rogers was employed by International Business Machines for 14 years when he was discharged on April 23, 1979, from the position of Pittsburgh Branch Manager. Plaintiff's dismissal was precipitated by written accusations from certain employees that his job performance and personal conduct were inimical to the interests of the company. The accusations were initiated pursuant to IBM's "Open Door Policy," which permits an employee to raise matters of concern with key members of management.

 An investigation by the company focused on the following areas: (1) decisiveness, (2) involvement, (3) business judgment, (4) loyalty and respect, and (5) personal conduct. The decision to terminate was predicated on the rationale that plaintiff's relationship with a subordinate employee exceeded normal or reasonable business associations, and Rogers' conduct negatively affected the duties of his employment.

 Plaintiff filed a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, claiming damages for wrongful discharge. Specifically, Rogers contends the actions of defendant were (1) wrongful, (2) violative of his right of privacy, (3) malicious and in bad faith, and (4) breached an employment contract without justification. The complaint was removed to this court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ┬ž 1441(a).

 IBM filed an answer denying the allegations of wrongful termination and invasion of privacy. Defendant asserts that (1) plaintiff's employment was terminable at will; (2) any claim for personal injuries is limited by the provisions of the Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation Act; and (3) the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

 Presently before the court is the motion of defendant for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth herein, the motion will be granted.

 II. Discussion

 Pennsylvania law presumes that an employee serves at the pleasure of an employer and the relationship may be terminated by either party and at any time absent a specific term or duration. Cummings v. Kelling Nut Co., 368 Pa. 448, 451, 84 A.2d 323, 325 (1951). In Jackman v. Military Publications, Inc., the Court of Appeals summarized the Pennsylvania rule as follows:

 
When a contract provides that one party shall render services to another ... but does not specify a definite time or prescribe conditions which shall determine the duration of the relation, the contract may be terminated by either at will .... The burden is on the plaintiff in such cases to overcome the presumption by showing facts and circumstances establishing some tenure of employment .... The intention of the parties govern. One relying on the contract as providing for a reasonable length of time must establish something in the nature and circumstances of the undertaking which could create the inference that a definite or reasonable period of employment was actually contemplated by the parties.

 350 F.2d 383, 385 (3d Cir. 1965).

 In the instant matter, the record is devoid of evidence with respect to an express contract, oral or written, between the parties. Instead, plaintiff alleges an implied contract. He contends that defendant's "promote from within" policy, including transfer and promotion practices, coupled with statements contained in the Managers Manual, and other general communications, tend to establish an implied contract of employment for "his entire career." We disagree.

 Even under the theory of contract by implication, the evidence fails to establish a contract for a definite term or duration. Reliance on the vague and conclusory statements contained in the material of record is insufficient as a matter of law to establish a specific term of employment. Furthermore, Pennsylvania jurisprudence provides that as a general rule, the use of the term "permanent" as applied to employment, contemplates a relationship of employment "until one or the other of the parties shall desire to terminate the connection; in which event the dissatisfied party is to have the right to be relieved" of further duties to the other. Green v. Medford Knitwear Mills, Inc., 408 F. Supp. 577, 581 (E.D.Pa.1976); Lightcap v. Keaggy, 128 Pa.Super. 348, 194 A. 347 (1937). Since there is no issue of material fact concerning IBM's power to terminate at will, there could be no implied employment contract to breach.

 Rogers also asserts that IBM's decision to terminate was improper because it was predicated on an investigation of a personal matter in which the Company had no legitimate interest and therefore invaded his right of privacy. However, plaintiff fails to allege a corporate impropriety which transgresses public policy. A broad assertion that IBM acted intentionally, wrongfully and without justification does not meet the test of Geary v. U. S. Steel Corp., 456 Pa. 171, 179, 319 A.2d 174, 178 (1974). In Geary, a salesman and an employee at will alleged wrongful discharge following dismissal for notifying the company of defects in several products marketed by the company. In affirming dismissal of the ...


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