No. 00456 Harrisburg 1984, APPEAL FROM THE ORDER ENTERED AUGUST 14, 1984 IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS OF FRANKLIN COUNTY, CIVIL NO. 1982-66
George F. Douglas, Jr., Carlisle, for appellants.
Frederic G. Antoun, Jr., Assistant District Attorney, Chambersburg, for appellee.
Wickersham, Cirillo and Johnson, JJ.
[ 351 Pa. Super. Page 52]
This an appeal from a judgment entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Franklin County. Appellant asserts that the trial court erred in denying appellant's motions for judgment n.o.v. and a new trial. A jury rendered a verdict in appellees' favor, finding that appellant's credit union had wrongfully discharged him. We reverse.
Appellee was discharged from the credit union in January of 1982 after a six-year employment tenure. During most of appellee's term of employment, he was given generally favorable evaluations for his performance as a manager. However, beginning in 1978, appellee's evaluation reports in the categories of supervision and personnel management ranged from "below desired levels" to very disappointing. One particular problem was appellee's relationship with those employees under his supervision. The board of directors discussed this problem with appellee on one occasion, yet it remained a constant issue with members of the board. Eventually the board called a special meeting at
[ 351 Pa. Super. Page 53]
which time the directors voted unanimously to dismiss appellee.
On January 4, 1982, after appellee had returned from vacation and less than one month after the special board meeting, the board president gave appellee notice in the form of a letter from the board that his services were no longer needed by the credit union and that appellee's employment was to be terminated effective immediately with appellee receiving ninety days termination pay. No reason was given for the termination.
Historically, Pennsylvania has recognized an employer's unfettered right to discharge an at-will employee for any or no reason in the absence of a contractual or statutory prohibition. Henry v. Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad Company, 139 Pa. 289, 21 A. 157 (1891). That right has been tempered with the emergence of the common law doctrine of wrongful dismissal whereby an employee may premise a cause of action on either tort or contract principles. H. Perritt, Employee Dismissal Law and Practice (1984). Appellee in the instant case only raised the assertion at trial that he was discharged in an abusive manner; he was clearly an at-will employee and there was no contention that a contract, implied or actual, existed between appellee and the credit union. Cf., Richardson v. Charles Cole Memorial Hospital, 320 Pa. Super. 106, 466 A.2d 1084 (1984); Njoku v. University of Pittsburgh, et al., 131 P.L.J. 137 (1983). Accordingly, the only issue before this Court is whether appellee's discharge falls within the limited exception that has emerged in this State allowing recovery for a termination of employment that has violated a significant and recognized public policy. Novosel v. Nationwide Insurance Company, 721 F.2d 894 (3rd Cir.1983). We find that it does not.
Courts have often grappled with the difficult task of determining which activities should be protected in furtherance of public policy. Murg. Scharman, Employment at will: Do the Exceptions Overwhelm the Rule?, 23 ...