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SCHLEIG v. COMMUNICATIONS SATELLITE CORP.

November 10, 1988

DANIEL L. SCHLEIG, et al., Plaintiffs
v.
COMMUNICATIONS SATELLITE CORPORATION, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MUIR

 I. Introduction.

 On January 8, 1988, Plaintiffs Daniel L. Schleig, Gary Houseknecht, and Jeff Swank filed suit alleging the breach of an employment contract by Defendant Communications Satellite Corporation ("COMSAT"). On August 15, 1988, Defendant COMSAT filed a motion for summary judgment, as well as a statement of undisputed material facts in support of its motion. On August 29, 1988, COMSAT filed a brief in support of its motion for summary judgment. On September 16, 1988, Plaintiffs Schleig, Houseknecht, and Swank filed a memorandum opposing COMSAT's motion for summary judgment. On October 3, 1988, COMSAT filed a reply brief. The motion of Defendant COMSAT for summary judgment is now ripe for our decision. We have jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 1332.

 II. Facts.

 This case arises out of alleged employment contracts entered into between Schleig and COMSAT in November, 1985, and between Houseknecht and Swank and COMSAT which were apparently entered into during the summer of 1985. The alleged employment contracts involving Schleig and COMSAT on the one hand, and Houseknecht, Swank, and COMSAT on the other, arose under two separate circumstances.

 On November 1, 1985, Schleig was interviewed by J.R. Silvius, Station Director of COMSAT at Roaring Creek, Pennsylvania, concerning employment with COMSAT. (Amended Complaint, para. 9). Silvius told Schleig that because of an existing contract between COMSAT and INTELSAT, the position of technician was available and would be in existence until at least November, 1989, a minimum period of five years. (Amended Complaint, para. 10). Schleig concedes that Silvius never told him that he would have work for the entire five year period. (Schleig Deposition at 142). Silvius offered Schleig employment with COMSAT by way of a letter dated November 1, 1985, with the employment to begin on November 18, 1985. (Amended Complaint, para. 11). Schleig accepted this offer of employment by letter dated November 2, 1985. (Amended Complaint, para. 14). After accepting employment with COMSAT, Schleig terminated his position with his employer, Borg-Warner, in York, Pennsylvania, purchased a home near the Roaring Creek Station, and relocated his family. (Amended Complaint, para. 15). Sometime after beginning his employment with COMSAT, Schleig read the COMSAT/INTELSAT contract and was disturbed by Article 7, which provided that INTELSAT could cancel the contract at any time. (Schleig Deposition at 73). Silvius had never mentioned to Schleig that INTELSAT could cancel the contract at any time. (Schleig Deposition at 77). On August 18, 1986, COMSAT terminated Schleig after the INTELSAT Board of Governors voted to cancel the COMSAT/INTELSAT contract. (COMSAT's Exhibit G). In the amended complaint, Schleig seeks recovery under the alternate theories of breach of contract and promissory estoppel.

 Unlike Schleig, Houseknecht and Swank had been employed by COMSAT since 1983. (Amended Complaint, para. 32). In 1985, by reason of a transaction with A.T. & T., COMSAT told Houseknecht and Swank that their positions with COMSAT could be terminated in 1987. (Amended Complaint, para. 33). On June 5, 1985, COMSAT offered Houseknecht and Swank an "Employees Incentive Benefits Program" if they would remain in their current positions until the COMSAT station at Roaring Creek was closed or transferred to A.T. & T. (Amended Complaint, para. 34). Under this arrangement, if Houseknecht and Swank stayed in their positions until December 31, 1986, they would have received a bonus equal to six months of their base salary. (Amended Complaint, para. 36).

 Houseknecht decided to forego the Employees Incentive Benefits Program associated with the close or transfer of the Roaring Creek facility to A.T. & T., and accepted COMSAT's offer of a position under the COMSAT/INTELSAT contract. (Amended Complaint, para. 41). Swank initially opted for the Employees Incentive Benefits Program, but he changed his mind and decided to work under the COMSAT/INTELSAT contract. (Amended Complaint, para. 42). Both Houseknecht and Swank stated that they opted for work under the COMSAT/INTELSAT contract because they believed that it provided them with increased employment security. Houseknecht saw the COMSAT/INTELSAT contract before he started performing services and acknowledges that Article 7 of the contract specifically allows for its termination at the convenience of INTELSAT. (Houseknecht Deposition at 83). Swank has no recollection of reading the COMSAT/INTELSAT contract before performing services under it; however, he saw the contract lying in the operations area at COMSAT'S Roaring Creek station sometime in June of 1985 and probably read it. (Swank Deposition at 39).

 On June 27, 1986, Houseknecht and Swank received a memorandum from Silvius advising them that their positions were to be terminated because of a vote by the INTELSAT Board of Governors not to implement the COMSAT/INTELSAT contract. (Amended Complaint, para. 45). Swank was terminated from COMSAT on September 29, 1986, and Houseknecht was terminated from COMSAT on October 2, 1986, both without cause. (COMSAT's Exhibits E & F; Amended Complaint, paras. 46-47). The amended complaint alleges that Houseknecht and Swank lost the bonuses that they would have received had they declined the positions under the COMSAT/INTELSAT contract. (Amended Complaint, para. 51). The amended complaint also alleges that Houseknecht was offered positions in Washington, D.C., and Clarksburg, Maryland, which he declined in order to work under the COMSAT/INTELSAT contract. (Amended Complaint, para. 49). Houseknecht and Swank argue that they likewise are entitled to recover damages from COMSAT under the alternative theories of breach of contract and promissory estoppel.

 The Plaintiffs, Schleig, Houseknecht, and Swank, argue first that they had employment contracts with COMSAT for a specified term, and were not mere at-will employees. They argue that their term of employment was to run at least until November, 1989, when the COMSAT/INTELSAT contract was scheduled to expire, and that their termination by COMSAT prior to that time constituted a breach of their employment contract. COMSAT argues in its motion for summary judgment that the Plaintiffs were merely at-will employees and that they have failed to prove the existence of an employment contract with the degree of specificity required to overcome the at-will presumption.

 III. Discussion.

 In considering a motion for summary judgment, we must ascertain, on the basis of pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, whether or not there are any genuine issues of material fact, and if none, whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Peterson v. Lehigh Valley District Council, 676 F.2d 81, 84 (3d Cir. 1982). An issue is genuine only if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986); Hankins v. Temple University, 829 F.2d 437, 440 (3d Cir. 1987); Equimark Community Finance Co. v. C.I.T. Financial Services Corp., 812 F.2d 141, 144 (3d Cir. 1987). If evidence is merely colorable or not significantly probative, summary judgment must be granted in favor of the movant. Anderson, 106 S. Ct. at 2511. When the record, taken ...


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