The parties have proceeded under the assumption that Pennsylvania law applies to this case, and since Adams was employed in Pennsylvania and the alleged wrongful discharge occurred in Pennsylvania, we see no reason to disturb the parties' choice, which is in accord with Pennsylvania law. See Cipolla v. Shaposka, 267 A.2d 854, 439 Pa. 563 (1970); Silvestri v. Slatowski, 224 A.2d 212, 423 Pa. 498 (1966).
On the basis of the affidavits and depositions submitted by the parties, the uncontested facts may be summarized as follows:
Adams was hired into an apprenticeship program at Budd's Hunting Park plant on June 11, 1956. Upon completion of the program, he was employed as a tool and die maker. With Budd's encouragement, he attended classes at Camden City College and Glassboro State College in New Jersey, completing a Bachelor of Arts degree between September 1970 and June 1974, for which he was partially reimbursed by Budd through a tuition-refund provision in the collective bargaining agreement.
On September 5, 1973, Adams accepted an offer to join Budd's management as a supervisor in quality control. Between September 1973 and April 1979, he acted as quality control supervisor in the auto division of Budd's Red Lion plant. He was subsequently transferred to the machine shop in April 1979, and then to the railway division in August 1980.
As quality control supervisor of the railway division, Adams' duties included implementing controls necessary to insure the quality level of parts and material received, manufactured, and shipped by Budd. To carry out these duties, Adams designed and redesigned major record forms to be used by the company's safety inspectors.
On or about September 1981, Adams was given a special assignment as the Miami-Baltimore specialist giving him exclusive responsibility for the quality control of railcars manufactured by Budd under its contract with the cities of Miami and Baltimore. Plaintiff found numerous defects with the railcars which he reported to his immediate supervisor, Thomas Headley. In December 1981, Headley removed Adams from the Miami-Baltimore assignment. However, in January, 1982, at the request of John Darrah, Headley's supervisor, Adams was reinstated as the Miami-Baltimore specialist. Shortly thereafter, Adams distributed a form, enumerating the large number of uncorrected defects in the railcars, to management personnel. Adams also wrote a letter in March 1982 to Headley and Darrah informing them that the first completed car contained defects which would require stripping of the railcars' interior. The car was subsequently stripped.
After this, in May or June of 1982, Adams was transferred to the quality assurance department as supervisor of vendor control. On October 14, 1982, Adams was told that he was being discharged "without cause." He received four months severance pay.
Budd asserts that it is entitled to summary judgment on the contract claim because the material facts, concerning which there are no genuine issues, show that no oral contract for a specified term of employment existed between Adams and Budd. 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 of duration. Jackman v. Military Publications, Inc., 350 F.2d 383, 385 (3d Cir. 1965); Cummings v. Kelling Nut Co., 368 Pa. 448, 451, 84 A.2d 323, 325 (1951). The plaintiff may overcome this presumption by showing the parties intended the contract to be for some definite period of time or by showing that the plaintiff-employee gave the defendant-employer consideration in addition to the employee's normal services. McNulty v. Borden, Inc., 474 F. Supp. 1111 (E.D. Pa. 1979). An employer's "custom, practice or policy" can also create a contractual just cause requirement or contractual procedures by which the employer must abide. Novosel v. Nationwide Mutual Ins. Co., 721 F.2d 894, 902-03 (3d Cir. 1983).
In this case, there is no evidence with respect to an express oral or written contract between the parties. Instead, Adams alleges an implied contract. He contends that Budd's practice of promoting from within, coupled with the expectation that once promoted to management, the employee remains there until he retires, tends to establish an implied contract for lifetime employment.
The evidence fails to establish a contract for any definite term or duration. Adams is unable to point to a single promise or representation for lifetime employment by Budd. By his own admission, Adams was "ecstatic" with the management offer, and accepted it without any discussion as to the terms or benefits of the position. Reliance on the bare supposition that the position was expected to last until retirement does not establish a specific term of employment. Under Pennsylvania law such vague and conclusory statements are not sufficient to overcome the presumption of employment at will. Green v. Medford Knitwear Mills Inc., 408 F. Supp. 577, 582 (E.D. Pa. 1976).
Nor does the fact that Adams changed his position within the company so as to no longer be able to rely on Budd's collective bargaining agreement constitute sufficient consideration to overcome the presumption. McNulty, supra, 474 F. Supp. at 1119. Adams acknowledges that he sought a management position because it offered better benefits, a higher wage, and earlier retirement. He admitted that he knew before he accepted the position that management was not part of the collective bargaining unit, and that he accepted the offer of promotion knowing he would no longer be able to rely on the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement. Merely foregoing other activities and interests cannot be regarded as additional consideration sufficient to establish an implied contract of lifetime employment. Lightcap v. Keaggy, 128 Pa. Super. 348, 360, 194 A. 347, 352 (1937).
Finally, there is nothing in this summary judgment record which raises a genuine issue of material fact as to the existence of any "custom, policy, or practice" which, pursuant to Novosel, supra, would prevent the plaintiff's discharge. As the Third Circuit held recently in Wolk v. Saks Fifth Avenue, Inc., 728 F.2d 221, slip op. at 7-8 (1984), a plaintiff must support the claim of the existence of such a policy in the manner required by Fed. R.Civ.P. 56. Accordingly, since there is no issue of material fact concerning the existence of a contract for a specific term, there was no employment contract to breach, and for all of the above reasons, summary judgment will be entered for Budd on the contract count.
Budd further asserts that it is entitled to summary judgment on the wrongful discharge claim because plaintiff has failed to set forth facts establishing that he was terminated in violation of a clear mandate of public policy.
At least since 1891, the established common law of Pennsylvania had been that an at-will employment relationship may be terminated at any time, by either the employer or the employee, for any reason, good or bad. Henry v. Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Co., 139 Pa. 289, 21 A. 157 (1891). Starting in 1974, the Pennsylvania courts began to re-evaluate this position. In the landmark decision of Geary v. United States Steel Corp., 456 Pa. 171, 319 A.2d 174 (1974), the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania acknowledged 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.
Id. at 184, 319 A.2d at 180 (footnote omitted).
Subsequent decisions have interpreted Geary as providing an employee a cause of action for wrongful discharge when important and well recognized facets of public policy are at stake and there is no available statutory remedy. Harrison v. Fred S. James, P.A., 558 F. Supp. 438, 444 (E.D. Pa. 1983); E.g. Perks v. Firestone Tire & Rubber Co., 611 F.2d 1363 (3d Cir. 1979) (wrongful discharge where employee discharged for refusal to take polygraph); Reuther v. Fowler & Williams, Inc., 386 A.2d 119, 255 Pa. Super. 28 (1978) (wrongful discharge where employee discharged for serving jury duty). Compare Beidler v. W.R. Grace, Inc., 461 F. Supp. 1013 (E.D. Pa. 1978) (no cause of action for wrongful discharge where company failed to follow its own evaluation policies -- no public policy violation); Yaindl v. Ingersoll-Rand Co., 281 Pa. Super. 560, 422 A.2d 611 (1980) (no cause of action for wrongful discharge where employee discharged after criticizing safety of employer's product -- public policy not threatened). This interpretation of the Pennsylvania law on wrongful discharge has been uniformly applied by the federal courts in this Circuit. Perks, supra, 611 F.2d at 1363; Boresen v. Rohm & Haas, Inc., 526 F. Supp. 1230 (E.D. Pa. 1981); O'Neill v. A.R.A. Services, Inc., 457 F. Supp. 182 (E.D. Pa. 1978).
More recently, in Novosel v. Nationwide Insurance Co., 721 F.2d 894 (3d Cir. 1983), the Third Circuit had occasion to review the present state of Pennsylvania law regarding wrongful discharge. The question for decision was whether a cause of action was stated in a complaint in which an employee alleged he was discharged for refusing to lobby the state legislature on the employer's behalf. The Court, in determining that a cause of action was set forth, stated:
Having concluded thereby that an important public policy is at stake, we now hold that Novosel's allegations state a claim within the ambit of Geary in that Novosel's complaint discloses no plausible and legitimate reason for terminating his employment, and his discharge violates a clear mandate of public policy. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court rulings in Geary and Sacks are thus interpreted to extend to a non-constitutional claim where a corporation conditions employment upon political subordination.