On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County.
Approved for Publication August 6, 1996. As Corrected October 3, 1996.
Before Judges Shebell, Stern and Newman. The opinion of the court was delivered by Stern, J.A.D.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stern
The opinion of the court was delivered by STERN, J.A.D.
While doing part-time free-lance work for defendant, Imedia, Inc., *fn1 plaintiff was offered a full-time job. After she accepted, but prior to commencing the full-time position, defendant rescinded the offer. The trial Judge granted defendant's summary judgment motion dismissing plaintiff's subsequent complaint.
Plaintiff appeals and contends that defendants breached an employment contract; that she was deprived of the "protection" of defendants' employee manual; that since she relied on defendants' offer by moving to New Jersey and giving up her desktop publishing business in Boston, she was entitled to recovery under the theory of promissory estoppel, and that, in any event, there were genuine issues of material fact for trial.
Because of the nature of a summary judgment motion, we recite the facts favorable to plaintiff on which she asserts a basis for relief.
In 1984 plaintiff moved from New Jersey to Boston where she subsequently held various positions in the communications industry. In February 1989 she decided to go "out on [her] own" in the desktop publishing business. In the beginning of 1993, while she was visiting a friend in New Jersey, plaintiff saw an advertisement for a free-lance advertising position with defendant. When she returned home to Boston, she sent a letter to defendant and applied for the position. In the letter she stated that "I am relocating to the Northern New Jersey area and would like to become an integral part of an advertising/marketing firm such as yours in the capacity of design/page layout/ marketing professional." After receiving plaintiff's letter, defendant Merle Benny, defendant's vice president, called plaintiff and told her that she "was very interested in [plaintiff's] background" and that she "would be interested in talking to [plaintiff] whenever she could come down."
In April 1993, plaintiff met with Benny at Imedia's office in Morristown. As a result of the meeting, plaintiff started doing "free-lance" work for defendant. Plaintiff worked for defendant two to four days a week and on some weekends doing "production work." Defendant paid plaintiff $35 an hour or $280 a day, "whichever worked out best" for her.
After plaintiff started doing the free-lancing work with Imedia, Brian McAreavy, defendant's fiscal officer, suggested to plaintiff that she should consider working for Imedia on a full-time basis. McAreavy thought that defendant could save on the free-lance rates by hiring a full-time employee. Plaintiff told Benny that she "was open to considering an opportunity at Imedia". However, according to plaintiff she also told Benny that she "was concerned with the difference in life-styles between Boston, Massachusetts and Morristown, New Jersey" and that in Morristown there was a "lack of night life and single life-style that exists prevalently in Boston."
On May 25, 1993, Benny sent plaintiff a letter offering her the position of "Desktop Publishing Manager" at an annual salary of $37,500. The letter attached a "detailed position description ... as well as information on our benefits" and added "[a] complete employee manual will be given to you when you start." (Emphasis added.)
On June 1, 1993, plaintiff declined the offer in a letter to Benny, which stated, in part:
I have agonized over this decision because although the position is just what I was looking for, I have become unsure about relocating back to New Jersey. When I first started working on a free-lance basis for you, I was set on moving back to New Jersey. But after a time, I found myself looking forward to returning to Boston.
Over the past eight years, I have developed a home here in Boston complete with good friends and wonderful personal and business contacts. I have thought long and hard about moving back to New Jersey, and with your offer, the idea is very appealing, but I must decline to accept your offer. I want you to know how difficult this decision was and all due to your terrific organization and the people who work there. Yours is a very special organization, but I cannot bring myself to leave Boston.
In her letter, plaintiff also offered to work "a part-time schedule" from her Boston office until defendant could find a full-time candidate and offered to train the recruit, if defendant so desired.
In response to the letter, McAreavy called plaintiff and advised her that the salary was negotiable. Plaintiff responded that "the money seemed fine" but she turned down the offer because she "enjoyed Boston" and had friends and clients there. After the conversation with McAreavy, plaintiff reconsidered defendant's offer. In her words, she
had gone back to the offer letter, as well as the job responsibilities, and really looked them over more on a job basis than as a leaving Boston basis ... how [she] could benefit as well as serve an organization .... When [she] looked at it from that point of view, [she] did have second thoughts about staying in Boston ....
As a result, plaintiff called McAreavy and told him that she would reconsider defendant's offer if they would increase the salary to between $44,000 and $45,000. He passed the message on to Benny who spoke ...