manual constitutes an enforceable contract of employment." Nicosia v. Wakefern Food Corp., 136 N.J. 401, 643 A.2d 554, 559 (N.J. 1994). To be effective, a disclaimer must be expressed in language that makes it clear to reasonable persons that the manual was not intended to create legally binding obligations. 643 A.2d at 560. The disclaimer must be prominent and unmistakable. Id.. "The language in the disclaimer must indicate, in straightforward terms, that the employee is subject to discharge at will." Id. (internal quotes and citation omitted).
Schlumberger's 1989 employee handbook contained a "Notice of Disclaimer" prominently located at the front of the book. It stated: "The handbook is not a contract or guarantee of employment, and does not change the longstanding right of either party to terminate the employment relationship at-will. Employees . . . may be terminated by the Company at any time, for any reason, with or without notice." (Millard Aff., Ex. B at 3rd page). Schlumberger's 1994 handbook deleted the company's layoff policy, although defendant maintains that the 1989 layoff policy remained in effect. The 1994 handbook contained a disclaimer stating that the handbook "shall not be construed to form an express or implied contract between SWS-M/E and any of its employees . . . ." It also stated that "either the employee or SWS-M/E can terminate the employment relationship 'at will,' i.e., with or without cause and at any time." (Millard Aff., Ex. C. at i).
Edwards refers in the Complaint to "the employee handbook" and the "local procedures" subsection labeled "layoffs procedures" as the source of her implied contract. (Complaint at Second Count P 2). She alleges there that she was terminated in violation of the handbook and the local procedures. (Complaint at Second Count P 3). Edwards states that her understanding was that layoffs would be conducted in accordance with Schlumberger's local procedures; she states in her affidavit that the local procedures "constituted the only documentation distributed to defendant's non-exempt employees regarding defendant's layoff procedures." (Edwards Aff. at P 11).
This Court does not understand Edwards to be saying that she did not receive any employee handbooks, let alone that no non-exempt employees received handbooks. Millard states that all Princeton employees received both the 1992 and 1994 handbooks. (Millard Dep. at 45, 46). Lou Cardarelli, a non-exempt EMR employee, has stated that he "really never read all the handbooks." (Cardarelli Dep. at 107).
The document that Edwards identifies as being the only written documentation she received on defendant's layoff policies contains a clear disclaimer. In a distinct section labeled "Termination" it states: "The Company is an employment-at-will employer, and reserves the right to initiate termination for any, or no, reason without prior notice." (Response to Motion for Summary Judgment, Ex. 13 at 7th page).
On this record it is clear that defendant's employee handbooks, and the other relevant layoff procedures excerpt, contained precisely the kind of disclaimers which, under New Jersey law, defeat any implication of an employment contract which such publications otherwise might have created. Edwards's apparent effort to confuse the record by stating that she saw only the local procedures excerpt is unavailing. First, this excerpt too contains the disclaimer. Second, the Complaint bases the breach of contract claim on both the employee handbook and the local procedures.
Under New Jersey law, there was no employment contract between Edwards and Schlumberger. Accordingly, there could be no breach of contract. This Court need not address the issue of whether defendant complied with its layoff seniority policies. Defendant's motion for summary judgment as to the Count II is granted.
VI. The Infliction of Emotional Distress Count
Count III of the Complaint alleges that the defendant's actions "inflicted emotional distress and mental anguish upon the plaintiff." This count will be construed as a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress.
"To establish a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, the plaintiff must establish intentional and outrageous conduct by the defendant, proximate cause, and distress that is severe." Buckley v. Trenton Saving Fund Soc., 111 N.J. 355, 544 A.2d 857, 863 (NJ 1988). The New Jersey Supreme Court has "circumscribed the cause of action with an elevated threshold for liability and damages." Id. The defendant must intend both to do the act and to cause emotional distress, or must act recklessly in deliberate disregard of a high degree of probability that emotional distress will result. Id. "The conduct must be 'so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community." Id. (internal quotes omitted).
Edwards has stated that she thinks about the layoff constantly and that it bothers her. She is resentful about the circumstances of her layoff, feels that she has no future and that she has been stepped on. As defendant notes, Edwards suffers no physical effects, has sought no professional help, has incurred no costs associated with her distress, attended college for a year after her layoff, and has continued both to work and to seek work.
This Court need not reach the issue of whether defendant's conduct was sufficiently outrageous and intolerable. As a matter of law, Edwards's evidence is insufficient to support a finding that her distress was so severe as to go beyond what a reasonable person could be expected to endure. See Buckley, 111 N.J. at 368 (evidence insufficient as a matter of law where plaintiff described distress as loss of sleep, aggravation, embarrassment, headaches, and nervous tension). Defendant's motion for summary judgment as to Count III is granted.
VII. The Breach of the Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing Count
Count IV of the complaint alleges that defendant's actions "violated obligations of the defendant to deal with the plaintiff in good faith relative to the terms of her employment." This count will be construed as claiming a breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.
Under New Jersey law, where employment is at will, no covenant of good faith and fair dealing exists. Varrallo v. Hammond Inc., 94 F.3d 842, 848 (3rd Cir. 1996) (citing McQuitty v. General Dynamics Corp., 204 N.J. Super. 514, 499 A.2d 526, 529 (N.J. App.Div. 1985)). Because, as discussed above, Edwards had no employment contract with defendant, her employment was at will and there could be no covenant of good faith and fair dealing for defendant to breach. Therefore, defendant's motion summary judgment as to Count IV is granted.
For the reasons set forth above, defendant's motion for summary judgment as to Count I of the complaint is denied. Defendant's motion for summary judgment as to Counts II, III and IV are granted. An appropriate order will be entered.
Joseph E. Irenas, U.S.D.C.
Dated: October 28, 1997