The Plaintiffs also argue that an implied in fact contract modifying the at-will rule may arise when there is additional consideration provided in excess of essential employment duties. (Plaintiff's Memorandum Opposing Motion for Summary Judgment at 6). The term "consideration" is not used here as it is in the usual contractual context to signify a validation device. Darlington v. General Electric, 350 Pa. Super. 183, 504 A.2d 306, 314 (1986). Rather, the term is used as an interpretive device. Id. When "sufficient additional consideration" is present, courts may infer that the parties intended that the contract would not be terminable at will. Id.
Houseknecht and Swank maintain that they provided sufficient additional consideration to support an implied contract because they gave up bonus payments under the positions that they had at the time in order to accept the offers of employment with COMSAT under the COMSAT/INTELSAT contract. The fact that Houseknecht and Swank decided to forego other opportunities with COMSAT in order to work under the COMSAT/INTELSAT contract, however, is not a sufficient detriment to modify the at-will rule. The decisions of Houseknecht and Swank to accept employment under the COMSAT/INTELSAT contract were simply reasoned choices of new career goals. See Darlington v. General Electric, 350 Pa. Super. 183, 504 A.2d 306, 315 (1986) (employee's decision to forego opportunity at Honeywell, his former employer, to assume supervisory position with General Electric deemed not to be sufficient additional consideration to modify at-will employment contract). The fact that Houseknecht also gave up employment opportunities in Washington, D.C. and Clarksburg, Maryland, does not make his case any more compelling.
Schleig argues that his relocation from York, Pennsylvania, to Roaring Creek, Pennsylvania, as well as his termination of employment at Borg-Warner's plant in York, Pennsylvania, constitutes sufficient additional consideration to overcome the presumption of at-will employment. As a general proposition, additional consideration is sufficient when the new employee must undergo a substantial hardship such as moving his family to take the new position. Darlington v. General Electric, 350 Pa. Super. 183, 504 A.2d 306, 315 (1986) (citing Lucacher v. Kerson, 158 Pa. Super. 437, 443, 45 A.2d 245 (1946)). In Lucacher, which stated the proposition that relocation of one's family in order to take on new employment may constitute sufficient additional consideration to overcome the at-will presumption, the Court stated that it was also necessary to consider the circumstances surrounding the making of the contract. Lucacher, 158 Pa. Super. at 443.
In Lucacher, the Plaintiff was a window trimmer and decorator who was "employed at the Gaston store in Somerville, New Jersey." Lucacher v. Kerson, 158 Pa. Super. 437, 439, 45 A.2d 245 (1946). The Plaintiff's family lived in New York City. Id. The Defendants were merchants engaged in the women's wear business, trading as "Kerson Brothers," and they placed an ad in a trade publication for a window trimmer, which they apparently needed for one of their stores near Philadelphia. Id. The Plaintiff answered the ad, negotiated with the Defendants, and was offered employment at the rate of $ 60.00 per week which he refused to accept because he felt that the compensation was not adequate to warrant moving his family to Philadelphia from New York. Id. Subsequently, the parties reopened negotiations and reached an oral agreement according to which the Plaintiff was to be permanently employed at a salary of $ 85.00 per week. Id. In reliance on the employment contract, the Plaintiff gave his former employer two weeks notice of his intention to terminate his then existing employment. Id. He then moved his family to Philadelphia. Id. 158 Pa. Super. at 440. He reported to work at the Defendant's store, worked there for three days, and on the fourth day he was summarily dismissed from his employment, paid $ 85.00, and told that his services were no longer desired. Id. at 440.
In Lucacher, the Court stated that by resigning his former employment and moving himself and his family from New York City to Philadelphia, and the other circumstances surrounding the making of the employment contract, a contract capable of enforcement came into existence. Lucacher v. Kerson, 158 Pa. Super. 437, 443, 45 A.2d 245 (1946). Although the Court in Lucacher, did not specify the "other circumstances surrounding the making of the contract," it was apparently referring to the negotiations surrounding the employment contract because the Court did not discuss any other circumstances. The Plaintiff in Lucacher bargained for a higher wage than he was originally offered specifically because the lower wage was not sufficient to make it worth it for him to move his family to Philadelphia. Unlike the circumstances in Lucacher, Schleig has presented no evidence that he bargained for a higher wage specifically to make it worthwhile for him to move his family from York, Pennsylvania, to Roaring Creek, Pennsylvania. Accordingly, we find that Lucacher does not control the case before us, and we conclude that Schleig has failed to provide sufficient additional consideration to take his employment with COMSAT out from under the employment at-will rule.
The Plaintiffs also suggest that because Schleig purchased a home at Roaring Creek, Pennsylvania, and gave up other employment, he has provided additional consideration to create an implied contract. (Plaintiffs' Memorandum Opposing Motion for Summary Judgment at 7). In Clay, supra, the Plaintiffs alleged that Defendant Advanced Computer hired them on a "regular full time basis for the purpose of long-term employment and career advancement." Clay v. Advanced Computer Applications, Inc., 370 Pa. Super. 497, 536 A.2d 1375, 1382 (1988) (en banc). The Clays also alleged that they accepted the position offered and stopped looking for other employment because of representations made to them by Advanced Computer's agent, Mr. Gruenwald. Id. In addition, the Clays alleged that they purchased a new home after Mr. Gruenwald encouraged them to do so and told them that "there were no problems with job security." Id. The Court in Clay concluded that "the Clays simply do not suggest that they 'brought to the employment so substantial a benefit, or incurred so detrimental a hardship in taking the job, that [they] should be accorded treatment any different from the typical at-will employee.'" Id. 536 A.2d at 1384 (citing Veno v. Meredith, 357 Pa. Super. 85, 515 A.2d 571 (1986)). Like the Plaintiffs in Clay, the fact that Schleig gave up other employment opportunities and purchased a house is not enough to make him anything other than a typical at-will employee.
Based upon the foregoing discussion, we conclude that Schleig, Houseknecht, and Swank were all merely at-will employees, that they had no employment contract with COMSAT, either express or implied, for a term of years or otherwise, and that they were all terminable at the will of COMSAT.
C. Promissory Estoppel.
The Plaintiffs have contended, in the alternative, that they are entitled to relief against COMSAT under the equitable doctrine of promissory estoppel. (Plaintiffs' Memorandum Opposing Motion for Summary Judgment at 10). In its brief supporting the motion for summary judgment, COMSAT argues that there can be no promissory estoppel because it made no promise to the Plaintiffs of employment with COMSAT for a specified term, and that even if such a promise could be found, the Plaintiffs could not have reasonably relied upon it. (COMSAT's Memorandum in Support of its Motion for Summary Judgment at 28-30).
Pennsylvania law recognizes promissory estoppel in accordance with § 90 of the Restatement (Second) of Contracts which provides that
A promise which the promissor should reasonably expect to induce action or forbearance on the part of the promissee or a third person and which does induce action or forbearance is binding if injustice can be avoided only by enforcement of the promise. The remedy granted for breach may be limited as justice requires.
Central Storage & Transfer Co. v. Kaplan, 487 Pa. 485, 410 A.2d 292 (1979); Murphy v. Burke, 454 Pa. 391, 311 A.2d 904 (1973); Murphy v. Bradley, 113 Pa. Commw. 387, 537 A.2d 917 (1988).
Promissory estoppel is a contract validation device which Pennsylvania courts have used when consideration has not been given in exchange for a promise. See Robert Mallery Lumber v. B. & F. Associates, 294 Pa. Super. 503, 440 A.2d 579 (1982) (detrimental reliance supplies consideration necessary for contract formation). Promissory estoppel is unavailable as a basis for relief when a promise is absent. Paul v. Lankenau Hospital, 375 Pa. Super. 1, 543 A.2d 1148, 1153 (1988) (citing Banas v. Matthews International Corp., 348 Pa. Super. 464, 502 A.2d 637, 648 n.12 (1985)). Reliance on the asserted promise must be justified, and if the employer has placed no limit on its freedom of action the promise is illusory. Id.
We have already found that to the extent promises were made to the Plaintiffs in this case, they were made by COMSAT in support of the COMSAT/INTELSAT contract only. The Plaintiffs have presented insufficient evidence to show that they were promised employment with COMSAT regardless of the status of the COMSAT/INTELSAT contract. If, for example, the INTELSAT Board of Governors had not voted to cancel the contract, and COMSAT had then fired the Plaintiffs without cause, the Plaintiffs may well be able to make out a case under the theory of promissory estoppel. This situation, however, is not the case that is before us. The only promise which COMSAT made to the Plaintiffs was that they would have work under the COMSAT/INTELSAT contract. COMSAT kept that promise, but once the underlying COMSAT/INTELSAT contract was repudiated by INTELSAT, COMSAT no longer had any obligations to the Plaintiffs to keep them as employees. To the extent the Plaintiffs relied upon employment with COMSAT for a definite term independent of the COMSAT/INTELSAT contract, such reliance was based solely upon their subjective expectations and not upon any clear promise by COMSAT. Each Plaintiff's reliance upon his expectation of employment with COMSAT for a specific period of time was unjustified.
An appropriate order will entered.
1. COMSAT's motion for summary judgment, filed on August 15, 1988, is granted.
2. The Clerk of Court shall enter judgment in favor of COMSAT and against Schleig, Houseknecht, and Swank.
3. The Clerk of the Court shall close this file.
JUDGMENT IN A CIVIL CASE
Decision by Court. This action came to trial or hearing before the Court. The issues have been tried or heard and a decision has been rendered.
IT IS ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that judgment is entered in favor of the Defendant, COMSAT and against Plaintiffs Schleig, Houseknecht and Swank.
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