Summary Judgment for the PHRA claim is granted.
B. ERISA Claim
Defendant also moves for summary judgment on plaintiff's claim that his termination was effectuated to prevent him from vesting in the pension plan in violation of section 510 of ERISA. 29 U.S.C.A. § 1140. Section 510 of ERISA provides that an employer cannot take action against an employee for "the purpose of interfering with the attainment of any right to which such participant may become entitled under the plan. Id. In order to make out a prima facie case under § 510 of ERISA, "an employee must demonstrate (1) prohibited employer conduct (2) taken for the purpose of interfering (3) with the attainment of any right to which the employee may become entitled." Gavalik v. Continental Can Co., 812 F.2d 834, 852 (3d Cir. 1987). The employee must show a "specific intent on the part of the employer to interfere with the attainment of pension eligibility." Hendricks v. Edgewater Steel Co., 898 F.2d 385, 389 (3d Cir. 1990)(citing Gravalik, 812 F.2d at 851-52). That is, the employee must show "that the employer made a conscious decision to interfere with the employee's attainment of pension eligibility or additional benefits." Dewitt v. Penn-Del Directory Corp., 106 F.3d 514, 523 (3d Cir. 1997)(emphasis added). See also Armbruster v. UNISYS Corp., 1993 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5331, 1993 WL 93975 (E.D. Pa.) overruled on other grounds Armbruster v. UNISYS Corp., 32 F.3d 768 (3d Cir. 1994)(stating that "since a loss of benefits is an inevitable consequence of virtually all employment terminations, courts consistently require plaintiff-employees to demonstrate that their employer specifically intended to interfere with their entitlement benefits in reaching disputed personnel decisions."). Although this specific intent can be shown with circumstantial evidence, in Dewitt, the Third Circuit recognized that "'where the only evidence that an employer specifically intended to violate ERISA is the employee's lost opportunity to accrue additional benefits, the employee has not put forth evidence sufficient to separate that intent from the myriad other reasons for which an employer might have discharged him.'" (quoting Turner v. Schering-Plough Corp., 901 F.2d 335, 347 (3d Cir. 1990)(internal citations omitted)).
Plaintiff contends in his ERISA claim that he participated in BW/IP's pension plan and was terminated to prevent him from vesting. Plaintiff admits in deposition that he bases this contention on the fact that "there was only a few months to go before that vesting and privilege" and on the fact that "it was a surprise to me on the day that I was let go that nothing was said previous." (Sharp Dep. 4/23/97 at 468-69). Plaintiff also points to defendant's failure to allow him to continue working until he vested as support for his claim that defendant violated section 510 of ERISA. Plaintiff alleges nothing further.
This evidence is insufficient to show a specific intent to interfere with plaintiff's benefits or rights under the pension plan. Plaintiff's "evidence" of a specific intent to interfere with his pension benefits amounts to nothing more than an assertion of the fact that he was deprived of the pension benefits as a result of his termination. As stated supra, this "inevitable consequence of virtually all employment terminations," standing alone, is insufficient to show a specific intent to interfere with the pension plan under § 510 of ERISA. Armbruster, 1993 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5331 at *49, 1993 WL 93975 at *15. Therefore, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted on the ERISA claim.
C. Breach of Implied-in-Fact Employment Contract
Defendant also seeks summary judgment on plaintiff's breach of an implied-in-fact employment contract claim. In Pennsylvania the "employment-at-will doctrine applies absent a clear intent by the parties to the contrary." Anderson v. Haverford College, 851 F. Supp. 179, 181 (E.D. Pa. 1994). See also Carlson v. Arnot-Ogden Memorial Hospital, 918 F.2d 411, 414 (3d Cir. 1990); Dugan v. Bell Telephone of Pennsylvania, 876 F. Supp. 713, 726 (W.D. Pa. 1994); Holewinski v. Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, 437 Pa. Super. 174, 649 A.2d 712, 715 (Pa. Super. 1994); DiBonaventura v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 372 Pa. Super. 420, 539 A.2d 865, 867 (Pa. Super. 1988); Darlington v. General Electric, 350 Pa. Super. 183, 504 A.2d 306, 309 (Pa. Super. 1986) overruled on other grounds Krajsa v. Keypunch, Inc., 424 Pa. Super. 230, 622 A.2d 355 (Pa. Super. 1993); Banas v. Matthews International Corp., 348 Pa. Super. 464, 502 A.2d 637, 644 (Pa. Super. 1985). Under the employment-at-will doctrine, an employee can be discharged at any time "for any or no reason." Anderson, 851 F. Supp. at 181. In order to overcome the presumption that the employment is at-will, "there must be either an express contract between the parties, or an implied-in-fact contract plus consideration passing from the employee to the employer from which the court can infer the parties intended to overcome the at-will presumption." Id. The burden is on the employee to prove that the parties had an intention to overcome the at-will presumption and to create an employment relationship different than employment-at-will. DiBonaventura, 539 A.2d at 867. This is a heavy burden which requires a showing of a "clear statement of an intent to modify." Id. at 868; Veno v. Meredith, 357 Pa. Super. 85, 515 A.2d 571, 578 (Pa. Super. 1986)("courts insist that to contract away the at-will presumption, much clarity is required"); Darlington, 504 A.2d at 312 ("definiteness is required"). The employee must show that "both parties intended to make a contract." Holewinski, 649 A.2d at 715. Further, "if the parties specifically agreed that the employment would be at-will, even though additional consideration were present, we would expect the court to construe the contract according to the parties' stated intention and hold it to be at-will." Darlington, 504 A.2d at 314; Scott v. Extracorporeal, Inc., 376 Pa. Super. 90, 545 A.2d 334, 339 (Pa. Super. 1988).
Plaintiff alleges that his supervisor, Michael Dziekonski, continually alluded that it would be beneficial to plaintiff's employment and to defendant if plaintiff would move his residence closer to defendant's offices, both when they were in Exton, Pennsylvania and then after they moved to Boothwyn, Pennsylvania. Plaintiff alleges he relied on these intimations in expending over $ 25,000 to make his, then, current residence in Clayton, New Jersey saleable and also when he entered into an agreement for the sale of this residence. Plaintiff contends that his employer's desire for him to relocate and his consideration in selling his home and attempting to relocate closer to defendant's place of employment created an implied-in-fact employment contract which defendant breached by terminating him.
However, the parties in the instant case specifically agreed that plaintiff's employment would be at-will. Prior to plaintiff's acceptance of employment with defendant, plaintiff was given an offer letter which specifically stated the plaintiff's employment "can be terminated at any time with or without cause and with or without notice at the option of either the company or the employee." (Def.'s Mem. at Exhibit B). In addition, plaintiff was given a disclaimer that expressly stated that "no manager or representative of BW/IP has the authority to enter into an agreement for employment for any specific period of time or to make any agreement contrary to this disclaimer." (Def.'s Mem. at Exhibit B).
In deposition testimony, plaintiff acknowledges receiving and understanding both of these documents. (Sharp Dep. 2/24/97 at 83-84). Further, plaintiff testified that he signed an acknowledgment form evidencing his understanding that his employment was at-will and that no manager at the company had authority to change the at-will relationship. (Sharp Dep. 2/24/97 at 83-84). Plaintiff further acknowledges that relocation was never discussed in the employment discussions prior to employment and that at no other time did anyone from BW/IP, other than the alleged intimations by his immediate supervisor, ever indicate that he should move. (Sharp Dep. 2/24/97 at 78-85). Plaintiff also acknowledges that even the manager who allegedly suggested to him that he move never indicated that plaintiff's employment was in any way conditioned upon his relocation. (Sharp Dep. 4/23/97 at 422).
Plaintiff's evidence is insufficient to show an intent by both parties to overcome the employment-at-will presumption. Therefore, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted for the breach of implied-in-fact employment contract claim.
An appropriate Order follows.
AND NOW, this 8th day of January, 1998, upon consideration of Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Plaintiff's response thereto, it is hereby ORDERED that in accordance with the foregoing Memorandum, the Motion is GRANTED in PART and DENIED in PART as follows:
1) Defendant's Motion is GRANTED for the PHRA, ERISA, and breach of an implied-in-fact employment contract claims and
2) Defendant's Motion is DENIED for the ADEA claim.
BY THE COURT:
J. CURTIS JOYNER, J.