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CONSTANCE RICHARDSON v. CHARLES COLE MEMORIAL HOSPITAL (10/14/83)

filed: October 14, 1983.

CONSTANCE RICHARDSON
v.
CHARLES COLE MEMORIAL HOSPITAL, APPELLANT



No. 198 Pittsburgh, 1982, Appeal from the Judgment of the Court of Common Pleas of Potter County, at No. 749 of 1980.

COUNSEL

Michael J. Reilly, Pittsburgh, for appellant.

William A. Behe, Wellsboro, submitted a brief for appellee.

Cavanaugh, Rowley and Cirillo, JJ.

Author: Rowley

[ 320 Pa. Super. Page 107]

Constance Richardson, appellee, filed this action in assumpsit against Charles Cole Memorial Hospital, alleging breach of an employment contract. After a non-jury trial, a verdict was returned for appellee. Exceptions were filed, argued and disposed of. Judgment for appellee was entered in the amount of $12,489.96, plus costs.

Appellant originally hired appellee in April of 1974 as assistant director of nursing and director of inservice education. On December 2, 1975, appellee was appointed director of nursing. On February 21, 1978, her employment was terminated.

[ 320 Pa. Super. Page 108]

Appellee's own testimony established that she was hired under an oral contract of indefinite duration. Under Pennsylvania law, where no clear mandate of public policy has been violated, an employee at will has no right of action against his employer for wrongful discharge. Geary v. Page 108} United States Steel Corp., 456 Pa. 171, 319 A.2d 174 (1974). No argument has been made in this case that any public policy was violated by appellee's discharge.

However, appellee argued, and the trial court concluded, that an employee handbook issued by appellant constituted part of appellee's contract of employment. Appellee claims that the handbook established a definite tenure of employment, since it contained a statement that it was the policy of the hospital "to provide continual employment to all employees whose work proves satisfactory". The handbook also provided for a probationary period of employment, a disciplinary procedure and a grievance procedure. The court specifically found as a fact that the handbook applied to appellee. It based this finding on the testimony of appellee and her witnesses. It is interesting to note, however, that the court conceded that certain provisions of the handbook clearly had no application to appellee. It also concluded that appellee was not required to file a grievance pursuant to the grievance procedure set out in the handbook. The court concluded that appellant breached the terms of its "employment contract" with appellee, as set forth in the employee handbook, when it terminated her employment without just cause.

We hold that, even assuming that the handbook applied to appellee, the court erred in concluding that the policies set forth in the employee handbook constituted part of appellee's contract of employment.

In Beider v. W.R. Grace, Inc., 461 F.Supp. 1013 (E.D.Pa.1978), aff'd 609 F.2d 500 (3rd Cir.1979), the federal district court held that under Pennsylvania law, failure to adhere to a company personnel policy does not create a cause of action for breach of an employment contract. We agree with that holding.

Appellant's unilateral act of publishing its policies did not amount to the "meeting of the minds" required for a contract. The terms of the handbook were not bargained for by the ...


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