The opinion of the court was delivered by: BECHTLE
This is a diversity action for wrongful discharge and breach of an oral contract for two years' employment. Presently before the Court is the motion of defendants Fred S. James, P.A., Inc. ("James") and Richard Peterson ("Peterson") for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted.
Plaintiff is a former employee of defendant James, an insurance brokerage agency and consulting firm. Defendant Peterson is the executive vice-president of defendant James in charge of the Philadelphia office where plaintiff worked. The cause of action dates back to events occurring in 1980. At that time, plaintiff was employed as a manager in the marketing department of Alexander and Alexander, another insurance brokerage firm. In or about January or February, 1980, plaintiff was contacted by an insurance search firm used by defendant James. Plaintiff was advised that James was looking for a marketing man and was extremely interested in him. Plaintiff agreed to meet with defendant Peterson of the James office. The meeting took place sometime in late February, early March, 1980. After a discussion of goals, objectives, and philosophies, Peterson asked plaintiff whether he was interested in a position with James. Plaintiff indicated that he was not interested in the positions offered. The meeting ended with Peterson stating that he would get back to plaintiff.
About a week later, the first of two luncheon meetings between plaintiff and Peterson took place. During these meetings, Peterson outlined a job as head of the marketing department at James. The job specifically included the responsibility of reorganizing the department. Plaintiff concedes that Peterson never promised him a definite term of employment at this or any other time. Nonetheless, plaintiff contends that "he (Peterson) led me to believe I would be employed at least two years via this discussion." Harrison Dep. at 110. Plaintiff's belief was based on the following exchange. In response to plaintiff's inquiries into the time period he would be allowed to complete a departmental restructure and then "work out the bugs," Peterson replied that a year would be appropriate. Plaintiff then stated to Peterson that he would first need six months to become familiar with the department prior to attempting a reorganization. Peterson indicated that this time frame "seemed sensible."
The actual offer of employment was not made at the luncheon meetings. It was made over the telephone by the search firm. No mention was made on either side of a specific term of employment. A few days later, plaintiff met with Peterson. A salary of $52,500.00 was agreed upon as was a date, April 7, 1980, for plaintiff to begin working for James.
Although plaintiff testified that he did not recall the details of April 7, 1980, his first day at James, he believed he met with James' personnel manager, Mrs. Ward. At this time plaintiff executed various documents including a Memorandum of Agreement. This agreement covered compensation, confidentiality, non-competition, and termination. The document plainly states that it is "intended to set forth the terms and conditions of the employment relationship between James and its Employee." Harrison Dep. at 144-145; Exhibit D-6. Paragraph 11 is a termination clause which states that employment "may be terminated by either party upon fifteen (15) days prior written notice." Id. at Exhibit D-6 P 11. Paragraph 10 stipulates that "this Agreement sets forth the entire agreement" between the parties, and "supercedes any and all prior agreements and understandings with respect of such employment."
That plaintiff reviewed the agreement prior to signing it is revealed by his questioning Mrs. Ward as to the document's necessity. Upon Mrs. Ward's confirmation of necessity, plaintiff executed the agreement without further objection or discussion.
During plaintiff's employment with James, by his own account his relationships with subordinates, account executives, and Peterson were good to very good. Plaintiff's termination during a meeting with Peterson on November 25, 1980, some seven months after he joined James, appears to have resulted from nebulous office "politics" and a loss of confidence in plaintiff by "other people." Harrison Dep. at 188-189. Plaintiff and Peterson discussed the details of the firing and it was agreed that plaintiff would be relieved of his responsibilities immediately, but would remain on the company payroll with full salary and benefits, including the use of company car, office space, and phone privileges, through March, 1981. This was to allow plaintiff time to find another job. Plaintiff voiced some concern over the announcement of his firing, but Peterson stated that "in the interests of the James organization," he had no choice but to immediately let others know that plaintiff had "resigned." Id. at 192.
As agreed, plaintiff continued to receive full salary and benefits until March 31, 1981. Plaintiff spent this time looking for another job, and did no work for James. Upon the completion of his severance from James, plaintiff received an additional five days' vacation pay and a profit sharing plan refund. At no time on or after November 25, 1980, the date of his firing, did plaintiff communicate to anyone at James that his termination breached his employment agreement.
A. Breach of an Express Oral ...