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BORESEN v. ROHM & HAAS

November 30, 1981

Richard O. BORESEN
v.
ROHM & HAAS, INC.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LORD, III

In this diversity action, plaintiff claims that his employer, Rohm & Haas, Inc., improperly and unlawfully discharged him in contravention of the common law of Pennsylvania. *fn1" On the basis of a stipulated factual record, *fn2" defendant has moved for summary judgment arguing that Pennsylvania law does not recognize a cause of action for wrongful discharge under the facts of this case. I heard oral argument on October 19, 1981. For the reasons that follow, I grant defendant's motion for summary judgment and enter judgment in favor of Rohm & Haas and against plaintiff on Counts II and III of the complaint.

I. Applicable Law

 A. Summary Judgment Standards

 Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) provides that summary judgment shall be granted "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law."

 It is well settled that the moving party, in this case defendant, has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue as to any material fact. Fairbanks, Morse & Co. v. Consolidated Fisheries Co., 190 F.2d 817, 824 (3d Cir. 1951). Further, in considering defendant's motion for summary judgment, "the inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts ... must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S. Ct. 993, 994, 8 L. Ed. 2d 176 (1962).

 B. Pennsylvania Law on Wrongful Discharges

 At least since 1891, the established common law of Pennsylvania had been that, in the absence of a specific statutory or contractual restriction, an at-will employment contract may be terminated by either the employer or the employee at any time, for good reason, bad reason, or no reason at all. Henry v. Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Co., 139 Pa. 289, 21 A. 157 (1891). The Pennsylvania courts began to reevaluate this position, however, starting in 1974 when the state Supreme Court decided the landmark case of Geary v. United States Steel Corporation, 456 Pa. 171, 319 A.2d 174 (1974). Although declining to reverse the lower court's dismissal of plaintiff's suit, the Geary court acknowledged in dicta the possible existence of a nonstatutory cause of action for wrongful discharge:

 
It may be granted that there are areas of an employee's life in which his employer has no legitimate interest. An intrusion into one of these areas by virtue of the employer's power of discharge might plausibly give rise to a cause of action, particularly where some recognized facet of public policy is threatened. The notion that substantive due process elevates an employer's privilege of hiring and discharging his employees to an absolute constitutional right has long since been discredited. But this case does not require us to define in comprehensive fashion the perimeters of this privilege, and we decline to do so. We hold only that where the complaint itself discloses a plausible and legitimate reason for terminating an at-will employment relationship and no clear mandate of public policy is violated thereby, an employee at will has no right of action against his employer for wrongful discharge.

 456 Pa. at 184, 319 A.2d at 180 (footnote omitted) (emphasis added).

 It is now well settled in Pennsylvania that, "when the discharge of an employee-at-will threatens public policy, the employee may have a cause of action against the employer for wrongful discharge." Yaindl v. Ingersoll-Rand Co., 281 Pa.Super.Ct. 560, 422 A.2d 611, 617 (1980). Accord, Reuther v. Fowler and Williams, Inc., 255 Pa.Super.Ct. 28, 386 A.2d 119 (1978). *fn3" This interpretation of the Pennsylvania law on unlawful discharge has been uniformly applied by all federal courts in this circuit, see, e.g., Perks v. Firestone Tire & Rubber Co., 611 F.2d 1363 (3d Cir. 1979); Lekich v. International Business Machines Corp., 469 F. Supp. 485 (E.D.Pa.1979); O'Neill v. A.R.A. Services, Inc., 457 F. Supp. 182 (E.D.Pa.1978), *fn4" with an emphasis on the narrowness of the public policy exception. See Arnold v. Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., Inc., 461 F. Supp. 425 (E.D.Pa.1978); McGinley v. Burroughs Corp., 407 F. Supp. 903 (E.D.Pa.1975).

 II. Plaintiff's Employment With Rohm & Haas

 A. The Hiring of Plaintiff.

 In August 1970, Rohm & Haas placed an advertisement in a technical journal seeking an "experienced leather technician." (Exhibit P-1) Plaintiff responded to that advertisement by letter dated September 10, 1970 in which he described his qualifications and experience. (Exhibit P-1A) On November 20, 1970, D. L. Woodman, the Rohm & Haas personnel manager for Foreign Operations, confirmed a telephone conversation and offered plaintiff the position of "technical leather specialist" for the Tokyo area. (Exhibit P-2) No formal contract of employment appears in the documents upon which my decision must be based.

 Plaintiff alleges that he was not advised at the time of his hiring that his benefits would be different from the benefits of an American citizen hired by Rohm & Haas and that he was given a copy of the benefit program developed for American employees. The documents fail to confirm these allegations. A company memorandum dated July 14, 1971 does state that plaintiff "will be accorded those fringe benefits which are outlined in the policy applying to Third Country National Employees." (Exhibit P-3) Plaintiff also alleges, without any support in the documents, that from July 1971 until July 1974 he engaged in extensive correspondence and communication with his superiors at Rohm & Haas, complaining and criticizing his classification as "Third Party ...


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