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Pinderski v. Commonwealth Telephone Enterprises

July 25, 2006

JEFFREY PINDERSKI, PLAINTIFF
v.
COMMONWEALTH TELEPHONE ENTERPRISES, INC., DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley

MEMORANDUM

Before the court for disposition is Defendant Commonwealth Telephone Enterprises, Inc.'s motion to dismiss Count I of the Plaintiff Jeffrey Pinderski's complaint in this wrongful discharge from employment action. The parties have briefed their respective positions, and the matter is ripe for disposition. Background Defendant made a written job offer for the plaintiff to work in their Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania office on August 2, 2005. (Compl. ¶ 12). Plaintiff accepted and commenced work for the defendant as the "Product Line Director" on August 12, 2005. The defendant's vice president of marketing, J. Christine Feeley, served as plaintiff's direct supervisor. (Compl. ¶ 22).

At the time that defendant offered the job to plaintiff, he resided in the Chicago, Illinois area with his wife and children. In order to accept the job, plaintiff and his family would have had to eventually move to the Wilkes-Barre area. (Compl. ¶ 14). When plaintiff accepted the job offer, his wife resigned from a job where she received an annual salary of $123,000 plus bonuses, stock options, profit sharing and other employment benefits. (Compl. ¶ 19).

On September 6, 2005, less than a month after plaintiff commenced his employment, Feeley advised him that his employment was terminated because he was not a "good fit" with the defendant. (Compl. ¶ 27). Feeley indicated that plaintiff did not possess the proper experience or credentials for the position, even though defendant was well aware of his background, experience and credentials from his resume, and from various interviews, and reference checks that defendant conducted before hiring him. (Compl. ¶ 27). Plaintiff then brought the instant two-count action.

Count I is a cause of action for "Breach of Contract for Wrongful Discharge." Plaintiff asserts that the defendant did not have "good cause" to terminate his employment; therefore, his discharge was wrongful. Count II is a claim for unpaid wages under the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law, 43 P.S. § 260.1, et seq.

Defendant has filed a motion to dismiss Count 1of the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Jurisdiction

This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to the diversity jurisdiction statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The plaintiff is a citizen of Illinois, and the defendant is a Pennsylvania corporation with a principal place of business in Dallas, Pennsylvania. (Comp. ¶ 4 -5). The amount in controversy is greater than $75,000.00. (Id. at ¶ 6). Because we are sitting in diversity, the substantive law of Pennsylvania shall apply to the instant case. Chamberlain v. Giampapa, 210 F.3d 154, 158 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Erie R.R. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938)).

Standard of Review

When a 12(b)(6) motion is filed, the sufficiency of a complaint's allegations are tested. The issue is whether the facts alleged in the complaint, if true, support a claim upon which relief can be granted. In deciding a 12(b)(6) motion, the court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and give the pleader the benefit of all reasonable inferences that can fairly be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997).

Discussion

Count I of the complaint asserts that the defendant wrongfully terminated plaintiff, and thus breached his employment contract. The parties are in agreement, however, that they did not enter into a written employment contract. The parties are also in agreement that in Pennsylvania, a presumption exists that employment is "at-will." Generally, at-will employees may be terminated at any time, for any reason or for no reason. Stumpp v. Stroudsburg Municipal Auth., 658 A.2d 333, 335 (Pa. 1995). The burden of overcoming the at-will presumption rests with the employee, here the plaintiff. Luteran v. Loral Fairchild Corp., 688 A.2d 211, 214 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1997).

"In order to rebut the presumption of at-will employment, a party must establish one of the following: (1) an agreement for a definite duration; (2) an agreement specifying that the employee will be discharged for just cause only; (3) sufficient additional consideration; or (4) an applicable recognized public policy exception." Id. at 214. In the instant case, the plaintiff asserts that he provided "sufficient additional consideration" to rebut the at-will presumption.

"Sufficient additional consideration" is present where "an employee affords his employer a substantial benefit other than the services which the employee is hired to perform, or when the employee undergoes a substantial hardship other than the services which he is hired to perform." Darlington v. General Electric, 504 A.2d 306, 315 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1986), overruled on other grounds, Clay v. Advanced Computer Applications, Inc., 559 A.2d 917 (Pa. 1989) (emphasis added). If an employee provides additional consideration, he cannot be terminated without just cause. Luteran, 688 A.2d at 216. The length of time during which it would be unreasonable to terminate, without just cause, an employee who has given additional consideration should be commensurate with the hardship the employee has endured or the benefit he has bestowed. Veno v. Meredith, 515 A.2d 571, 580 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1986). Generally, courts have given a narrow reading to the ...


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