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ANDERSON v. HAVERFORD COLLEGE

April 25, 1994

ALBERT L. ANDERSON Plaintiff,
v.
HAVERFORD COLLEGE, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. CURTIS JOYNER

 Joyner, J.

 This matter before the Court concerns defendant's motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth below, we will grant defendant's motion.

 Standard

 A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is the appropriate method in which to challenge the legal sufficiency of a claim. See United States v. Marisol, Inc., 725 F. Supp. 833 (M.D. Pa. 1989). In ruling upon a 12(b)(6) motion, the court primarily considers the allegations in the complaint, although matters of public record, orders, items appearing in the record of the case and exhibits attached to the complaint may also be taken into account. Chester County Intermediate Unit v. Pennsylvania Blue Shield, 896 F.2d 808, 812 (3rd Cir. 1990). In so reviewing the pleadings and any materials of record, the court must accept as true all of the matters pleaded and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, construing them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Markowitz v. Northeast Land Co., 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3rd Cir. 1990); Hough/Lowe Assoc., Inc. v. CLX Realty Co., 760 F. Supp. 1141, 1142 (E.D. Pa. 1991). A complaint is properly dismissed if it appears certain that the plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S. Ct. 99, 101-102, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80 (1957); Ransom v. Marrazzo, 848 F.2d 398, 401 (3rd Cir. 1988).

 Discussion

 Plaintiff, a former employee at Haverford College, filed a five count complaint against defendant after defendant terminated plaintiff from his position as a manager in the Physical Plant Department in October, 1992. The complaint states that plaintiff was allegedly terminated for "having utilized the College's facilities and equipment and certain surplus materials in connection with personal business." Complaint, para. 7. According to the complaint, however, defendant had a long standing policy and practice of allowing maintenance department employees to use scrap materials belonging to defendant and allowing employees to perform construction and maintenance projects for their own personal benefit and for the benefit of other employees. Id. at para. 6.

 Plaintiff, a black male, has sued defendant alleging claims of racial discrimination in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e)-2 as amended, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa.C.S.A. § 951 et seq., the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, as well as claims of breach of contract and detrimental reliance. The pending motions concern counts four and five, plaintiff's claims for breach of contract and detrimental reliance. Defendant maintains that plaintiff has failed to set forth any claim upon which relief can be granted with respect to these two claims.

 A. Breach of Contract

 Plaintiff has sued defendant for breach of contract alleging that the "employee handbook and other written and unwritten customs, policies, practices and procedures constituted a binding contract of employment" between the parties that "provided both a substantive right to continued employment ... and governing the manner in which any discipline or discharge may be implemented." Complaint, para. 25. Plaintiff further asserts that defendant breached this contract by not following the procedures set forth in the handbook when it terminated plaintiff. Id. at para. 27. Defendant now asserts that plaintiff fails to state a claim because the employee handbook does not constitute an employment contract.

 Case law in Pennsylvania clearly holds that the employment-at-will doctrine applies absent a clear intent by the parties to the contrary. Under this doctrine, an employee can be discharged for any or no reason. Ruzicki v. Catholic Cemeteries, Inc., 416 Pa. Super. 37, 610 A.2d 495, 497 (1992). In order for the presumption of employment-at-will to be overcome, there must be either an express contract between the parties, or an implied in-fact contract plus additional consideration passing from the employee to the employer from which the court can infer the parties intended to overcome the at-will presumption. Id. (quoting Scott v. Extracorporeal, Inc., 376 Pa. Super. 90, 95, 545 A.2d 334, 336 (1988) (citations omitted)).

 In order for an employee handbook to constitute a contract, it must contain a clear indication that the employer intends to overcome the at-will presumption. Ruzicki, 416 Pa. Super. 37, 610 A.2d 495, 497. Further, under the reasonable person standard, a handbook is only enforceable as a contract if a reasonable person in the same position as the employee would interpret its provisions as evidencing an intent by the employer to overcome the at-will presumption. Id. Moreover, it is for the court to determine whether the handbook contains any provisions indicating such an intent by the employer. Id.; see also Schoch v. First Fidelity Bancorporation, 912 F.2d 654, 660 (3rd Cir. 1990) (duty of court to determine if evidence suffices to defeat at-will presumption).

 Courts have held that provisions in employee handbooks which contain disclaimers or state there is no intent to create an employment contract are sufficient to retain the at-will presumption. For instance, in Ruzicki, the court found there was no employment contract to defeat the at-will presumption where the handbook's disclaimer stated its purpose "is not intended to give rise to any contractual obligations or to establish an exception to the employment-at-will doctrine." Ruzicki, 416 Pa. Super. 37, 610 A.2d 495, 496 (1992). Likewise, in Rutherfoord v. Presbyterian-Univ., 417 Pa. Super. 316, 612 A.2d 500 (1992), the court also found that defendant's disclaimer contained in the employee's manual, which stated that the guidelines "are a summary of the [Hospital Manual] and group benefits policies with insurance companies, and are not intended to be a legal contract," clearly indicated the employer's intent not to confer any rights upon its employees. Therefore, plaintiff's claim for breach of contract failed. Rutherfoord, 417 Pa. Super. 316, 612 A.2d 500, 504 (1992).

 In the present case, plaintiff asserts that the employee handbook, along with other written and unwritten policies, constitute a contract so as to overcome the at-will presumption. However, the handbook contains an introductory letter from the President of the College which states "The handbook of course is not a contract of employment, but it is intended to serve as an introduction and guide to expectations at Haverford." *fn1" Addi-tionally, in the section of the handbook on termination, it is stated that "nothing contained in this section will have the effect of altering the at-will status of your employment in serving at the pleasure ...


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